Eagle Condor Alliance: Healing with Sacred Plant Medicines

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Aho Mitakuye Oyasin – We are all one family

I found myself murmuring the above phrase out loud to myself as I crawled on my hands and knees on the wet grass, passing through the entrance of the low, dark, domed structure of the sweat lodge. This Inipi ceremony, as it’s called by the Lakota people of North America, is performed in a sacred sweat lodge that is considered to be the womb of Mother Earth. Every individual entering or exiting the lodge chants “Aho (or Hiya) Mitakuye Oyasin,” signifying the unity and communion with nature and each other. I must admit, I crawled more than a little apprehensively as I knew this “womb” was going to be a tight fit for the 30 or more humans currently crawling inside, and I was just realizing that I definitely should have peed before entering. This was going to be a long and claustrophobic process and the last thing I needed to worry about was the poignant presence of the peyote tea in my bladder that I had consumed ceremonially hours prior. As the last of us squeezed into the lodge, it reminded me of trying to zip up an overpacked suitcase, and it began to dawn on me that this was going to be one of those experiences that I wouldn’t forget anytime soon.

Sweat Lodge at ECA

Prayers were uttered by the healer in Spanish and Lakota while piping hot rocks were moved into the center of the lodge by a man using deer antlers as tools to maneuver the glowing stones. These rocks had been stewing in the fire for hours in preparation for the ceremony and we all became acutely aware of their immense heat as they were rolled one by one into the lodge. Just as I was becoming a bit intimidated by this whole process and starting to second guess exactly what the hell I was doing sandwiched in a tiny little dome tent with 30 other sweaty, half-naked humans surrounding a dozen or so burning red stones, the entrance flap to the lodge closed and my world was thrust into total darkness.

The darkness carried with it the familiar unsettling feeling of claustrophobia. Seconds after the door flap had been closed, I found myself in the dark underworld beneath the giant stones at Larsen Park. You see, as a young boy, I used to go to the park and let my imagination go wild within the underground kingdom of the colossal stones as I scrambled and climbed from one end of the formation to the other. One day, however, after growing a couple inches since my last visit to the magical underground kingdom, I got stuck. Really fucking stuck. I couldn’t turn around and get out the way I came, so my only option was to keep shimmying my way forward through the tears and dread that were overtaking me. I remember praying to God that I would be a good boy and never get back in these rocks if He (God was clearly a He back in those days) would just help me get out of this mess. Now I sat as a grown ass man facing the remnants of that mini trauma, doing my best to breathe as the healer poured more and more water on the hot stones, filling the small enclosure with enough steam to pressure cook the fear right out of me.

The ceremony consists of four rounds of prayers and songs in the pitch black, human packed, womb of Mother Earth. In between rounds (about fifteen minutes each), the flaps are opened and the cold mountain air provides a much-needed reprieve from the intense humidity and heat. I made it all the way to round two before I broke down and cried as the little boy stuck in the rocks years ago. These weren’t tears of fear or claustrophobia but were instead tears for my lost friend. We had traversed life’s boulders together as children, and now here I was, trying to come to terms with his suicide in the thick, hot blackness. With the peyote tea coursing through my veins and tears streaming down my face, I felt his presence of love and reassurance all around me. He was telling me not to live in regret or anguish or fear, but to help others who were in need, and be a light to those stuck in the primordial darkness of the ego. My sobbing turned to laughter as I felt love flood through my body, reassuring and comforting me. After the ceremony ended I crawled out of the sweat lodge and into the majestic mountain forest of Colombia and stared out in bewilderment at all the beauty. The beauty of what I had just experienced, the beauty of the earth under my bare feet, and the beauty of the tribe of people around me. I knew I had come to the right place.

The Alliance

Eagle Condor Alliance is a group of men and women united in the purpose of healing humanity, preserving ancient traditions, and protecting the earth. They conduct plant medicine retreats in the beautiful mountains above Medellin, Colombia, near the small town of Santa Elena. In their own words, their mission is:

“We fulfill the ancient prophecy of the Eagle and the Condor by uniting humanity around one fire with the sacred medicines. Together we create a new consciousness based on self-knowledge, love, and the ancestral memory that resides in each of us.”

When I first arrived at ECA, I was struck by the sheer beauty of the surrounding mountain landscape and awe-inspiring views of Medellin below. I was met by a warm smile and a hug from a man named Jesse, one of the leaders and facilitators of the retreat. I was taken aback by the informal and friendly nature of the greeting, but this set the underlying tones of comradery and family that would be present throughout my stay with the alliance. From the facilitators to the healers, to the assistants, to the cook, everyone at Eagle Condor Alliance emits a frequency of love and goes about their work with smiles and laughter. After spending ten days disconnected from the outside world and in the charge of the alliance, I became aware of a serene authenticity that lives there, subtly sinking into each person that arrived, almost as through osmosis or some invisible magic. The work done at ECA is embodied by people living out their vocation, not just trying to make a quick buck.

There were a few elements of this retreat that seemed to really stick out to me. First, was the absolute commitment to and reverence for indigenous traditions. The Native American ceremonies held here are no joke and are not taken lightly. These ceremonies are not just methods for ingesting psychoactive plants, but are living, breathing parts of North and South American indigenous people’s traditions and culture. It was fascinating and humbling to get a glimpse into such an intimate and sacred part of their lives. Second, the sincere care and attention provided by the members of the alliance, particularly in ceremonies. I always felt like I had the support and assistance of the facilitators when I needed it. When shit hit the fan (as is often the case in these ceremonies), I exercised my darkest demons all over their maloka and these people took care of me with patience and grace. Seriously, I turned into a complete mess one night, and I was blown away by the support and love I was shown. Finally, I was surprised by the chill, easy-going nature of the whole retreat process. Whereas other retreats try and squeeze in as much “productive” healing activities as possible, ECA values the quiet moments of introspection and aloneness as much as anything. They understand that this journey is an inward one, and the amount of time you get to spend introspectively meditating, reading, writing, or just soaking up the beauty of nature is a significant part of the therapy you receive there. Don’t get me wrong though, the medicines and healers here are on a Jedi-like level. Before we go into all of that fun stuff, let’s look at some science.

Some Science on Healing

Our understanding of pain and trauma is beginning to shift in the west. Western medicine up to this point has created a separation of the human body from the human mind. We tend to believe that emotional trauma or distress is somehow separate from our bodies and doesn’t have an impact on our physical health. In other words, just take some SSRIs if you’re feeling depressed instead of trying to pinpoint the actual location of the depression and the source of the pain in the first place. We have also been led to believe that our emotional and social environment does not have a significant impact on our health as well. In other words, if you grew up in a toxic psychological social environment that constantly exposed you to negative feedback, aggression, or verbal/sexual abuse, this should not have an impact on your physical health. This paradigm is beginning to fall apart. Humans are a complex mesh of psychological, emotional, physical, and spiritual factors. When we receive damage to any one area of our complex organism, it can have a lasting and adverse effect on the rest of our systems resulting in problems ranging from addiction to cancer. That means that time you peed your pants on the bus and got humiliated in front of all those judgy first graders might be contributing to your chronic stress or your binge eating problem. That also means a traumatic event as early in life as circumcision could be contributing to the cancerous tumor you developed years later. If we don’t properly process the pain that we are inevitably going to face in our lifetimes then we end up carrying it around with us for years to come. Here is a little excerpt from a speech that renowned doctor Gabor Mate gave in a conference in 2013:

“What if we actually got that human beings are bio-psycho-social creatures by nature, and actually bio-psycho-spiritual creatures by nature, which is to say that our biology is inseparable from our psychological emotional and spiritual existence and therefore what manifests in the body is not some isolated and unique event or misfortune, but a manifestation of what my life has been in interaction with my psychological and social and spiritual environment? Well, if we had that kind of understanding then we would approach illness and health in a completely different fashion. What if, furthermore, we understood something in the West which has been the underlying core insight of Eastern spiritual pathways and aboriginal shamanic pathways around the world, which is that human beings are not their personalities, we’re not our thoughts, we’re not our emotions, we are not our dysfunctional or functional dynamics, but that at the core there is a true self that is somehow connected to, in fact not connected to but part of nature and creation.”

You can find the entire transcription of the speech here, and I highly recommend it. 

When our delicate little psyches encounter a particularly stressful situation, we revert to our primal fight or flight response to get us to safety. This involves the body reallocating most of its resources to better physical and cognitive function so that we can survive the stressful situation by either throwing down or getting the fuck outta there (fight or flight). The stress hormones produced by our glands help us survive the situation and are burned up in our system through physical exertion (throwing down or running like hell). It’s actually a genius system that evolution has equipped us with, but there have been a few kinks in that system since entering the modern age. You see, our brain can’t tell the difference between physical and emotional stress factors. In other words, you’re just as likely to produce those stress hormones and activate a fight or flight response when your wife cheats on you as you are when you are running from a lion. The difference is, with the emotional trauma, we don’t have a way to process those stress hormones, as society doesn’t encourage beating on your cheating wife. Then your boss gives you some bullshit extra task to do at work which is going to cut into your copious-alcohol-consumption-time (that you need to deal with the cheating wife). All of these stress hormones just build up in our system, causing chronic stress, insomnia, anxiety, and even PTSD. We can carry this stress with us for years without ever processing it and releasing it from our bodies, which can then manifest in the body as all manner of diseases and spam. Here is an interesting article from Psychology Today that explains this process in more depth.  If western society were an airport, our emotional baggage claim area would be an overcrowded, chaotic shit show. We haven’t been educated and equipped with the proper healing mechanisms to deal with this new type of threat and it’s no wonder our societies are plagued with rampant depression, crippling anxiety, and a growing suicide epidemic. As a tribe of fellow human beings, it’s time to wake the fuck up about our emotional baggage, childhood trauma, social anxieties, and mental health problems.

Opening a Can of Ancestral Worms

A couple more fun facts about trauma. Trauma can be transgenerational. Transgenerational trauma is trauma that is transferred from the first generation of trauma survivors to the second and further generations of offspring of the survivors via complex post-traumatic stress disorder mechanisms. Fuck me right? As if we didn’t have enough shit on our plate- many of us have to deal with the inherited trauma that we might not even be aware of. The effects of this trauma can be seen in second and even third generation descendants of Holocaust survivors. The grandchildren of Holocaust survivors were 300% more likely to be checked into child psychiatry clinics when compared to the normal population. If you come from a family with a history of abuse, trauma, or hardship, there could be transgenerational factors affecting you. In addition to the transgenerational variety, add collective trauma to the crap cards that many of us got dealt. A collective trauma is a traumatic psychological effect shared by a group of people of any size, up to and including an entire society. This collective trauma can range all over the spectrum from religious cult victims to entire races that have been enslaved, tortured, and terribly abused.

One underrated yet massively destructive collective trauma that many of us are affected by in western society is the great Christian wound. I don’t want to go too deep down this rabbit hole as it could take an entire post on its own, but Christianity has worked a real number on us a collective species. First of all, the amount of torture, murder, destruction of culture, and straight up genocide that has taken place in the name of Christ by organized religions and governments is astounding. How many humans were murdered in the crusades or any other number of religious wars in the past two millennia simply for what they believed? Millions. How many indigenous peoples of the Americas were enslaved, tortured, or murdered because men like Hernan Cortez and Christopher Columbus were “discovering” the new world? Once again, millions.

In fact, almost all of them. Estimates suggest 90-95% of populations of indigenous peoples of the Americas were eradicated in just 200 years. These “savage” indigenous peoples were nearly wiped off of the earth completely, only small remnants of their culture and story remain. How many of us are carrying lingering trauma in our DNA and collective conscious from this great scourge? Even though our species seems to be past the point of genocide (hopefully), we still use organized religion as staple means of controlling, manipulating, and abusing people. After all, none of us are safe from original sin and we are all born inherently flawed as sinners from the beginning, right? Don’t worry though, we can baptize you and brutally cut off the tip of your penis to give you a fair shot at grace. Circumcision is an intensely traumatic event to inflict on anyone, let alone a newborn baby. But still, millions of surgeries are performed every year because of an immoral, disgusting, and barbaric tradition. Those babies are being traumatically damaged, and that trauma lives within them for years to come, plaguing them with physical and psychological issues for the rest of their lives.

I’m going to cut the rant of Christianity short here and maybe pick it up in earnest another day because it’s a topic I believe is essential to talk about. We need to evolve beyond these outdated ideologies and heal this wound of modern society. As a side note, I think the essence of the message of Christ was pure, beautiful, uplifting, and important for humanity to hear. However, this message was one of greater love for ourselves, each other, and the earth. If we could let that pure love into our lives, we could heal the sickness of the ego and turn these problems around. The words of Christ seem to have been horrifically misinterpreted and misrepresented to the masses, resulting in a dark past of heinous deeds, and repression of freedom, creativity, and knowledge. I believe one of the great works tasked to the modern era is to clean the stain that organized religions and cults have left on this Earth and represent the true spirit of love that was Christ. My parents actually named me Christian for fucks sake, and as much as this article is going to make them cringe at the thought of their son losing his way in the world, I hope I can live up to my name and be a catalyst for healing the Christian wound left on the collective conscious of humanity. This is where we could use some medicine.

Medicine and Medicine Man

“Life lived in the absence of the psychedelic experience is life trivialized, life denied, life enslaved to the ego.” -Terrence McKenna

Psychedelics are finally coming into the laboratory limelight and showing very optimistic promise. Therapy with MDMA, Psilocybin Mushrooms, LSD, Ayahuasca, San Pedro cactus, and other psychedelic drugs and visionary plants has provided us with a mountain of anecdotal evidence, and now growing scientific data showing their profound healing capabilities. For the purposes of this article, we are just going to talk about Ayahuasca and San Pedro cactus. In reference to the process of healing trauma with Ayahuasca, here is Gabor Mate again:

“My daughter did an ayahuasca retreat. She said that she revisited all the sad places in her childhood and because I was a workaholic and was very stressed, and a very undeveloped adult when I was a father to my young kids, she’s had plenty of sorrow in her life. And she said that she revisited those sad places but did so with the loving consciousness and empathy and the compassion of an adult, and if you look at the brain scans on ayahuasca … what you see is activation of the temporal lobe, where childhood memories are stored; of the limbic system where our emotions are modulated and they live, and the front part of the brain where insight is made available to us.”

Leonidas

When approaching an ayahuasca ceremony with the guidance of experienced healers, some serious intention, and a bit of courage, the medicine can be a tremendous catalyst for healing and transformation. As mentioned before, ECA takes these ceremonies and the healing process very seriously and their main focus and objective is to provide a safe and sacred space for individuals to undertake their journey with the medicine. At ECA, they refer to the Ayahuasca tea as Yagè (yah-hey). This is not some jungle juice you drink down to have a trippy experience or fun evening exploring consciousness. This is hands down the strongest medicine I have ever taken, and they weren’t shy about portion size either. They say that the Ayahuasca vine absorbs all the energy or the surrounding Amazon jungle as it grows. For this reason, harvesting wild vines as opposed to cultivating it in a garden is essential for the deeper healing purposes that the ECA has in mind. Their primary healer, a man named Leonidas (yes he’s as badass as his name) goes deep into the Amazon jungle, harvests the plants needed, and prepares the medicine for several days prior to conducting any ceremonies. This process of deep intention from the healer and naturally sourced medicine sets the stage for a visionary experience that is hard to put into words.

Leonidas is the Yagè healer that you will always find at the Eagle Condor Alliance, but once per year, they are lucky enough to host one of the true elders of the jungle and the yage tradition. He is an 80-something-year-old man that’s all of five feet tall, but his energy engulfs the entire room. I find that I’m still trying to process and understand the healing that I witnessed these men facilitate, even weeks later. Each shaman develops his own icaro or song with the medicine. This is a relationship that he develops with the spirit of the plant over decades of drinking the brew alongside and under the guidance of their elders. These icaros are the language of the plants, and the full mystery and beauty of the song defies description. As their elder, let’s call him Jungle Yoda, serenaded us with his force like powers and communicated his message of healing to the plant entity inside of all of us, I knew I was in the presence of a master. He was a master who operated in the DMT realm, and I welcomed his song into my mind and into my heart.

The ancestral can of worms is real. It might take some potent Yagè and a Jungle Yoda to crack it open, but it’s very real. During my ceremonies at ECA, I came into full confrontation with my shadow but was surprised to see how much of that darkness was inherited. I saw the deep scars, the anger, and the fear that had traveled down countless generations to arrive in the shadows of my psyche. I experienced the deep wound that Christianity has left on this planet. I felt the patriarchal lust for authority, power, and dominion. I saw the beauty and unconditional love of the message of Christ one night, then the next night I witnessed the twisting and corruption of that message, creating a deep sickness of the ego. My body was taken over and controlled by an angry authoritarian demon as the collective transgenerational Christian wound rose from its hiding place in the shadows and reared its ugly face. It took several men to restrain me as this darkness tried to flee the maloka and escape the cleansing that was coming. The healers were perfectly prepared for what they were facing, and the darkness was subdued with various icaros, healing lotions, and other modalities. After lying on my bed in confusion and pain for several minutes, I built up the strength to walk to the bathroom, knowing it was time to get rid of this darkness for good. I purged the most putrid and foul thing that has ever left my body. As I trembled and quivered on the toilet, I knew that I wasn’t just purging for myself, but for my ancestors, and all of my future descendants, cleansing this lower frequency energy from my bloodlines forever.

 

Gonzalo

Luckily, the San Pedro cactus ceremony was not nearly as hardcore as the ancestral can of worms purge-fest. Huachuma (or Awakoya), as its called in the Andes, treated me much more like a lady, at least during my retreat at ECA. The medicine is prepared and administered by a healer named Gonzalo, a man oozing authenticity, passion, and intensity. The ceremony took place around a fire and included many beautiful chants and songs. The underlying tone of the ceremony was a celebration for life and thanksgiving for all that we have and are. The Huachuma opened my heart chakra and I connected to the beauty of the music, the primordial energy of the fire, and my own inner strength. This medicine is not the full psychoactive and physical takeover that is Yagè, but it brings euphoria and clarity while allowing you to focus the mind. After making it through the first initial nausea-come-up phase, I was able to sort through all the craziness that had built up in my mind from the previous ceremonies. It was as if I could pick out each obstacle in my mind one by one and address it with pure clarity and confidence, listening to my heart and obtaining a knowledge of what must be done about each one. There was no hesitation, no fear, and no fog clouding my cognition. One of the most powerful moments of the night was learning from Abuelo Fuego (grandfather fire). I sat staring into the flames, smoking a ceremonial tobacco, and was reconnected to an ancient and elemental magic that only fire can evoke. When the sun rose, I was eager to take that clarity and love and magnify it out through my life.

 

On Columbus Day

I actually wrote the first draft of this blog post on Columbus day. I mention that because one of the core missions of ECA is to preserve the culture and traditions of Native American tribes that have been devastated (some totally eliminated) because of men like Columbus. Here are a few Christopher Columbus quotes from his own journal to “celebrate” his achievements:

“The Indians are so naive and so free with their possessions that no one who has not witnessed them would believe it. When you ask for something they have, they never say, ‘no, to the contrary, they offer to share with anyone.”

“They brought us parrots and balls of cotton and spears and many other things, which they exchanged for the glass beads and hawks’ bells. They willingly traded everything they owned… They were well-built, with good bodies and handsome features…. They do not bear arms, and do not know them, for I showed them a sword, they took it by the edge and cut themselves out of ignorance. They have no iron. Their spears are made of cane… They would make fine servants…. With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want.”

“While I was in the boat, I captured a very beautiful Carib woman, whom the said Lord Admiral gave to me. When I had taken her to my cabin she was naked—as was their custom. I was filled with a desire to take my pleasure with her and attempted to satisfy my desire. She was unwilling, and so treated me with her nails that I wished I had never begun. But—to cut a long story short—I then took a piece of rope and whipped her soundly, and she let forth such incredible screams that you would not have believed your ears. Eventually, we came to such terms, I assure you, that you would have thought that she had been brought up in a school for whores.”

“Endless testimonies . .. prove the mild and pacific temperament of the natives…. But our work was to exasperate, ravage, kill, mangle and destroy…”

This post is not about hating on Columbus (even though that’s a worthwhile blog topic), but I wanted to give you an idea of just what happened to the native peoples of the Americas. It is no exaggeration to say that Europeans (many of them our ancestors) committed genocide on the races of humans that they found occupying their “New World”. This egoic sickness that has infested the west for millennia has not gone away. Even today the native tribes of the Andes and the Amazon are fighting to preserve their lands and traditions. The names and faces have changed, but the enemy is the same: the greed and mindless destruction of the modern man. Today massive corporations mine, drill, and destroy the beautiful lands of these tribes for the sake of profit. We are cutting out the very lungs of our planet as we deforest the Amazon, pollute it’s waters, and drive natives from their ancestral homes. There are many brave men and women taking a stand to help preserve these lands and defend these people, and Eagle Condor Alliance have shouldered that cause. 15% of all of their revenue goes to land conservation and 10% more goes to the elders of their tribespeople who are living in extreme poverty. By supporting the ECA, you are taking a stand in this fight to preserve the sacred lands and traditions of the ancient world. Like Gandhi said: “Be the change you want to see in the world.” The ECA is that change.

On my final day with the Alliance, I sat in their sky room overlooking the beautiful mountainside and city of Medellin below, soaking in the spectacle for the last time. As I reflected over the last 10 days, I was in awe and gratitude for what had taken place there. I had no idea of the depth and breadth of the healing that would take place during my stay when I had arrived, but now I contemplated the magnitude of healing that had taken place here. The healing traditions, ceremonies, and culture that is being preserved at Eagle Condor Alliance are powerful and essential. The men and women making it all happen and keeping that culture alive are special. I would recommend a retreat to ECA to anyone with the courage to answer the call to adventure and embark on the Hero’s Journey to face and heal the darker elements of themselves, their bloodlines, and even the collective human consciousness. We are all human beings and we all have the power to influence and improve our destiny as a species.

We are all one family.