Leia reads an article that she wrote for DoubleBlind Magazine. This reading is the unabridged version of the article. An edited version, titled Why Connecting to the Earth May Be a Vital Part of Psychedelic Healing, is available at https://doubleblindmag.com/permaculture-healing-sacred-rebels-recovery/
As a child, I spent a lot of time outside communing with the beings of the forest floor, the endless sky, the river bank, the garden. Those were my friends and family – lily of the valley, fluffy clouds, chickadees, dandelion, pine, warm rain showers, hydrangea, clover, tiny mushrooms, soft grass, sandy soil. As I grew older and school became more demanding and family and friendships became more complicated, my relationship with nature withered.
The first time I ever tripped, in my early 20s, I watched my (sorely neglected) houseplants grow, blossom and die, grow, blossom and die, in an endless cycle. The beauty made me cry. I recognized how separate I had become from the cycles of nature and our planet. I saw that my suffering was connected to this loss.
Lyla June, indigenous musician, scholar and community organizer, speaks to our interdependence with and irrevocable belonging in the natural world:
“There is a word in my language: hozho is the joy of being a part of the beauty of all creation. When we understand that humanity is an expression of the earth’s beauty, we understand that we, too, belong. Hozho understands that we have an ecological role. Hozho understands that our mother earth needs us. When we become her friend, her confidant, her ally, her partner in life, instead of her dominator, her superior or her profiteer – we can transform dead systems to living ones.
This does not involve isolating national parks and never touching a blade of grass. No, it involves rolling up our sleeves, living within her processes, becoming a part of the earth’s system, as we were born to be. And using these minds to protect and augment life on a holistic, regional scale. If our ancestors around the world proved this is possible, then it gives us hope that we can do it again.”
Psychedelic and plant medicine journey work often shows me how I am part of something greater than myself. While there is so much focus on healing ourselves in the modern psychedelic discourses, I still have questions – How can we engage in the healing process in a more wholistic way? Not only looking to heal ourselves, each other, or heal the planet, but to heal the relationship between us?
What is Land Based Healing?
Land based healing engages people in a reciprocal relationship with the natural world. In this paradigm, it’s not about what we are getting for ourselves, but what we are giving and receiving in connection with the earth.
According to the International Journal of Indigenous Health:
Land-based healing is a culturally defined practice, program, or service that takes place in an urban nature-based, rural, or remote location, on a land base that has been intentionally spiritually cultivated, honored, and respected (Hanson, 2012). The land is situated as firmly relational within an Indigenous pedagogy, and is understood to be an active “partner to the person or people engaged in the healing process” (Hanson, 2012, p. 2). Steps are taken to identify how an individual or community’s relationship with the land, self, and others has been disrupted and how best to help renew this relationship (Laurie, 2013). This has also been referred to as “land-based intervention” in the literature (Walsh et al., 2018).
N’alag̱a / Ḵ’áw kuuna (Avis O’Brien) is a Haida/Kwakwa̱ka̱’wakw artist and Land Based Cultural Empowerment Facilitator. Her lived experience surviving the impacts of Canada’s attempted and ongoing colonial genocide, then turning to substances to cope with the trauma, eventually led her to land based healing. Now she teaches in the medical system, training physicians and medical professionals to reimagine a healthcare system that addresses the root of our problems, rather than just employing bandaid fixes.
[caption: N’alag̱a / Ḵ’áw kuuna (Avis O’Brien)]
“I’ve lived with the spirit of suicide since I was 10 years old. Land Based Healing is how I am alive today. It’s how I have healed a huge amount of my trauma, how I’ve reclaimed my indigenous identity that was stolen from me. Land Based Healing has helped me to renew those parts of myself, to stay on my path of recovery from heroin addiction and alcohol that I was using to cope.”
Land based healing has been around for time immemorial, though it’s only in recent years that it has been given a name. Avis says she didn’t really know what it was when she was engaging in these practices, such as sweat lodges, cold water submersion, cedar brushing – “I was engaging in ceremony. It’s only in the past few years that land based healing has become more of a buzzword.”
According to Avis, Land Based Healing is for indigenous people by indigenous people, though non-native people may be invited to participate. An indigenous person whose culture it belongs must be open to sharing it, and participants should follow their protocols.
Land Based Healing has not been formally studied through a western medical lens, though numerous studies indicate the tremendous physical benefits from related practices, such as forest bathing. Known as shinrin-yoku in Japanese, forest bathing involves taking in a natural setting through our five senses, opening us up to deeper connection with the natural world.
“Forest bathing reflects how our indigenous languages were born, how our cultures were born,” says Avis. “Everything was born from the land, by sitting with the land, listening, opening your senses.”
Land based healing presents the opportunity for an intentional return to right relationship with the natural world. Jessica Petrone LPC, ecotherapist, shares about how right relationship is a gateway to be in such right relationship with self and with others: “It is a ‘remembering’ of holistic wellness on every level, and how nurturing to and giving to the earth (even as simple as through appreciation and gratitude) is just the same as giving to ourselves. The intentional act of giving to and receiving from the land is at the origin of our species although so many cultures and mainstream society have strayed so far from even the acknowledgment of this, let alone the practice of it.”
Even before psychedelics began to enter paradigms of western mental health, many of us have known that the mainstream approach to therapy is lacking. Cultural/political writer Andrew Solomon summarizes a Rwandan’s account of his experience with western mental health workers who came to his country after the Rwandan Genocide in 1994:
“Their practice did not involve being outside in the sun where you begin to feel better. There was no music or drumming to get your blood flowing again. There was no sense that everyone had taken the day off so that the entire community could come together to try to lift you up and bring you back to joy. Instead they would take people one at a time into these dingy little rooms and have them sit around for an hour or so and talk about bad things that had happened to them. We had to ask them to leave.”
The clinical model for psychedelic therapy, involving a single person with one or two therapists in a closed room, wearing headphones and eyeshades, is not necessarily the best treatment for everyone. What might happen if we integrated land based healing with psychedelic ceremony?
Integrating Land Based Healing, Addiction Recovery and Psychedelic Ceremony
Sapha, a first generation Persian/Canadian, grew up in Nanaimo, BC – one of the epicenters of the overdose crisis in Canada. Makena, a Hawaiian/ American, was raised in Hawaii and Arizona. Both overcame addiction through the intentional combination of plant medicine and holistic practices. Together with Maestro Ricardo Amaringo, they started Sacred Rebels Recovery.
Sacred Rebels is no ordinary addiction treatment center. The center is located 1 hour outside of Iquitos, Peru, and is indigenous owned and operated by Peruvian Shipibo curanderos and peer-led by a mix of North American indigenous & multi-ethnic people with lived experience of substance addiction. In addition to working with ayahuasca and other traditional Shipibo plant medicine ceremony work at Nihue Rao Centro Espiritual, Sacred Rebels Recovery residential program clients and retreat participants can engage with the natural world through permaculture and land based healing practices.
Sapha has been working with individuals at all stages of healing from addiction since 2015. He believes that community is the most essential part of the recovery journey, along with peer-led programming, holistic health, land based healing, wise mentors, wise friends, meditation, diet and physical exercise.
“We (people with lived / living experience as drug users or people in recovery) have been muted for a long time by bureaucrats and medical professionals who lack first hand personal experience with addiction recovery and often view us as unqualified to conduct the life saving work we are engaged in. Peer led recovery and programs bring meaningful experience to the table and allow for people who have lived experience to be involved in the recovery process for others.
When asked about how plant medicine can support people on a recovery journey, Maestro Ricardo Amaringo, who has faced his own challenges with substance abuse, shared that “Ayahuasca and the master plants heal people because they help people see their wrongs and give them the ability to correct them while at the same time allowing them to make peace with their traumas and find peace in themselves. People who have suffered from the use of drugs can recover but they must be willing to surrender and begin living a new way of life and work with the medicine to clean the negative energies and blockages caused by their life in addiction.”
Sapha and Makena aim to bridge the gap for those in recovery who are new to psychedelics, and connect people who are working with ayahuasca on their healing path.
“Land based healing abroad adds a layer of adventure to the experience and an opportunity for the individual to be away from the city or town they used drugs or alcohol in for an extended period of time,” Sapha shared. “They also get the chance to experience a different culture, art, spirituality, and way of life. Their time away gives the family or closest care of the individual seeking treatment a break and ability to create healthy distance to allow space for healing on both sides. Seeking treatment internationally can also be more cost effective while also providing legal access to treatments such as ayahuasca-assisted therapy.”
Makena spoke to me about how powerful working with the medicine can be in the addiction recovery journey. “She takes you to the core traumas and allows you to really see them. I think that, a lot of the time, in the Western approach, that piece is missing, or it might take years to get to. The medicine can take you right there and allow a different kind of healing to go down.
“For me, combining that with the land-based healing approach has been equally as important. It’s kind of like my version of meditation. In our society, we’re very much in our minds. Working with the land is where I can quiet my mind and step into my body a bit more. Something really magical happens, at least within me. It’s where I go to find answers and guidance.”
About the benefits of combining Land Based Healing and psychedelic ceremony for addiction recovery, Avis said, “trauma lives in the nervous system; it’s not cognitive. It lives in the body, and it needs a place to be released. You can’t talk your way out of it – that’s where psychedelics come in, allowing you to access where those traumas are stored in the body. When you reach those wounds, you need a place to release it, and land has the ability to release traumatic memory that gets stored in the body. I know this from lived experience. The land has taken from me the things that no longer serve me.
Avis believes that land based healing and psychedelic ceremony, facilitated by skilled people who can guide you through and hold space for whatever comes up, will provide opportunity for people to access those parts of themselves that they can’t without the psychedelic medicine, and provide an opportunity to give that to the land.
Avis also sees healing potential in cultivating and eating the food and medicine grown from the land. “A lot of the food that we eat is toxic, so growing food is wellness. When I eat salmon that comes from rivers that my ancestors have eaten since time immemorial, that’s wellness.”
Sacred Rebels is collaborating with the local indigenous community to create access to essential food items and gainful employment for residents of the village Llanchama (pronounced “yawn-chama”). Their long term intention is to nurture systems that support food sovereignty for locals in the area, and to cultivate food forests with native foods and medicines to feed the people who live there.
They are cultivating native medicinal plants such as chacruna, ayahuasca, bobinsana, and more, as well as working on sustainable and regenerative systems. According to Sapha, the land used to be a farm 20 years ago, probably for animal agriculture, as a dam was put across a naturally existing pond. They have restored it to its natural state.
Sacred Rebels is now considering a permaculture project for the pond. Gamitana, a large piranha that resembles a bass, is a popular food source that has been depleted due to commercial overfishing and drought as a result of climate change. Universidad Nacional de la Amazonía, a bio-pharma agricultural technical university focusing on ecological conservation and plant science, may collaborate with Sacred Rebels Recovery to raise a few thousand fish in the pond, then introduce them into natural habitats to replenish the population. Some that reach full maturity could be harvested and offered to the local community as food.
The revenue generated from treating people at Sacred Rebels Recovery will go into continuing to advance the permaculture operations, plant more trees, and do more community development. They are also looking into what it would take to build water towers for the village Inchama.
For tens of thousands of years, entheogens have been used by humans in sacred and ceremonial ways. Communion with the natural world is oftentimes an integral part of the medicinal ritual. Many traditions and nature based peoples use these medicines to connect with and understand more deeply the forces and elements of nature, says Jessica Petrone.
“I find that there is such a beautiful and supportive relationship between working with psychedelics and communion with nature, and in my experience the combination of the two is exponentially profound. Through my own experiences and through the sharings of others, one common thread I have witnessed that weaves these two worlds together is through working with psychedelics and plant/fungi medicines, most individuals feel their innate relationship to and appreciation for the natural work expand and deepen.”
While climate change worsens as a result of human activity, perhaps more psychedelic therapy and retreat centers will begin incorporating nature relationship into their treatments. I hope that more conscious and equitable collaborations between western and indigenous people can take place, to heal the relationships between ourselves, our planet, and the more than human world.