If you’ve ever participated in a plant medicine retreat or ayahuasca ceremony, or if you frequent any medicine circles around your area, you may have heard the experience referred to as ‘sacred surgery’.
In case you haven’t — we’re about dive in and dissect this metaphor, and why it seems so fitting to the experience.
This is furthered by the fact that in traditional Amazonian shamanism, and the vegetalistas who conduct these ceremonies, the plants they use are call into ceremony are often referred to as ‘doctores’ — doctors.
What would cause this kind of terminology to emerge naturally from the traditional use of sacred plants in the healing process?
The metaphor sticks because it fits our colloquial terminology of traditional medical symptoms.
When you are sick, or ill, what do you do?
- If you have a headache, maybe you’ll take some Aspirin. You will take a medicine to heal your your illness.
- What if you don’t know exactly what’s wrong with you, and you need a secondary opinion, or a diagnosis? Where do you go? You go to the doctors office, to get an expert opinion and to have them diagnose and treat you.
- Now what happens if the doctor finds something serious, something life-threatening or highly concerning when you visit them? They will recommend you undergo surgery to correct and heal the illness.
Our current Western medical paradigm is fantastic at healing physical illness and impairments. The best system that we’ve developed in all of human history thus far.
But what happens if your illness is psycho-spiritual in nature? What if it’s your soul that is sick? What if you have a mental illness?
What do you do then?
You seek treatment for it.
And fortunately, indigenous peoples around the world have been cultivating and stewarding these hospitals for the soul for thousands of years.
This is why ayahuasca itself is often referred to as medicina — medicine.
You travel to the doctors office (the location these experiences are hosted in), you meet with the doctors, take the medicine, and begin to heal your illness(es).
Vegitalistas and traditional shamans use many different plants and healing modalities to address illnesses, and not every individual case requires intensive surgery.
Maybe you’ll be given some tea, or undergo a kambo experience.
But for some illnesses of the soul and psyche, surgery is required. This brings us back to the ayahuasca ceremony as a process of ‘sacred surgery’.
The experience is sacred because it works on and addresses that which is our most sacred possession: our being — our minds, bodies, and souls.
I was recently on a 3-week plant dieta, an intensive process unfolding over the course of 3 weeks to undergo this process of sacred surgery, to reconnect with nature, to heal my illnesses and discomforts, and discover the person that lay waiting beneath.
To elaborate on the process and experience of sacred surgery, for those who may be interested in learning more, I’m sharing an entry I made one day on this topic. You can find my entire notes in the Dieta Diaries.
On Sacred Surgery
The surgery itself is a 3-step process, similar to how you would imagine a deep invasive surgery unfolding. The first step is cutting open, so that you can begin to operate. The second step is cleaning out, removing the gunk and illness that is manifesting the symptoms. The final step is stitching up, putting the patient back together again once the surgery is complete.
From my notes:
”A 3-step process of: cutting open, cleaning out, stitching up. The full process is contained in each individual ceremony, but also evident in the unfolding of multiple ceremonies. I notice this taking shape in the 3-week diet now, with each week being a distinct stage of the process.
This first week is simply cutting open, preparing the body for the full operation to begin. Opening you up to the process and removing areas of resistance and friction. The second week is cleaning out, doing the deep cleansing and operational activities necessary to address the root cause and initiate the healing process. The final week is stitching up, putting you back together whole again, so that you can come back out into your normal life, healed and better than when you came in.”
— Eric Brown, On Sacred Surgey
Think of a traditional operating room, what do you imagine is there? The metaphor continues here, in the way that the ayahuasca ceremonies are setup and structured.
“The metaphor is also apt because we are not in control of the operation, we are lying down, bound to the operating table through structure and ritual, while the plant doctors go to work in operations addressing root emotional issues and active traumas.”
You are lying down on an individual mat throughout the ceremony, asked to try not to move much or make much noise — similar to a surgery you would have back at home.
A lead doctor, and perhaps a group of his supporting ‘nurses’ begin working on you, using their knowledge and expertise to address the problem and provide a solution.
They use a number of tools, things like scalpels, sedatives, and other medical accoutrement to complete their task. Much like the plant doctors of an ayahuasca ceremonies might use visual metaphors, physical sensations, mental thoughts or epiphany moments to complete the psycho-spiritual surgery they are guiding.
This is a serious process, not one to be taken lightly. Not many of us would be quick to volunteer for invasive surgery, and these sacred surgeries must be treated with the same respect.
They are an intense and exhaustive process, but are important and extremely healing for those who undergo the process.
As you might imagine, there are many ways in a classic surgery that you could make the process harder than it needs to be. Imagine if you were moving around and goofing off while the doctors were working on something inside of you, trying to extract or amputate something inside of you.
We can fall into these common pitfalls in the process of sacred surgery as well.
“We run into trouble in 2 main ways: 1) believing that we are the doctor instead of the patient, and 2) trying to control the process and wanting it to go faster or be done in a different way. The surgery will last as long as it needs to, and will unfold in the way that the doctor guides it.
All we need to do is be present in the process, not make it any more difficult than it needs to be, and trust knowing that we came to this doctor because they specialize in the surgeries and processes that resolve and address our present ailments.
If you knew how to fix it already, you would have. If you could do the operation yourself, you wouldn’t have come to the doctors’ office. Sure, the surgery is scary and you want it to be successful — but you will do no one any good by kicking and screaming and resisting the doctors orders. Trust in the process and the doctor.”
This is where common themes of ayahuasca come up: surrender, presence, patience, trust.
We must surrender to the process, for we are not the operating doctor! We are the patient, and in some way once the process begins it is out of our control. We are along for the process, and the best thing we can do is be present and try to make it as smooth as possible for everyone involved.
We must trust that the doctors are experienced in their field, that they know what they are doing, and that they are acting with our best interests in mind.
This always seems to be the case, and is a sentiment echoed by many who undergo this experience.
The sense of another entity, who wants the best for them, showing them what they need to see and cleaning out the garbage they hold on to, all in the interest of healing any unresolved illness or ailment.
An Extended Dieta
A plant dieta adds another element to this experience, where you are given a ‘diet plant’ and made to consume large quantities of either a tea or an extract, with the express intention of connecting to the spirit and energy of that particular plant.
A dieta is an intense process, one of extreme physical isolation, and sensory deprivation as much as possible. Any source of external stimulus is removed as much as possible, so that you can turn inward with ease and notice the process unfolding.
In our experience we were consuming ~5 litres of a tea each day, the plant was ajo sacha. Paired with 3 ayahuasca ceremonies each week, they each played a role in facilitating the psycho-spiritual surgeries we were undergoing:
“The diet plant tea serves as a form of IV-drip, infusing necessary vitamins and fluids into the system while ayahuasca serves as the main operator doing the serious hands-on cleaning out. Both are vital to the process and keep the patient alive and functional during the procedures.”
This metaphor of the IV-drip in the form of the tea, and ayahuasca using a spiritual scalpel to do the deep surgical operations on our psyches felt considerably true.
Ready for Surgery?
Being a human isn’t an easy task, none of us have mastered the experience of being human. We all live inside our heads, constantly bombarded with stimulation, thoughts, feelings, uncertainties, anxieties, and a whole host of other inputs.
Much like you don’t try to fix your arm when you break it, why do we think we are the best person to fix our psycho-spiritual illnesses?
Our brains and minds are spirits are far more complicated than our arms, and though we are quick to seek medical help for physical ailments, we are more reluctant to seek assistant when it is our minds and spirits on the line.
This is backwards.
For those who feel the need, I can’t recommend this operation enough. To regain your strength, to feel the mind viruses infecting you leave your system — these are among the most beautiful experiences we can have.
None of this is to say that the process is easy, they are among the most difficult experiences I have had — but like any intense surgery — the payoff for a successful surgery is immense.
You get your life back. Your vitality returns. You show back up in your life stronger and more capable than ever.
Ayahuasca is a powerful medicine. The plant doctors are deeply wise and experienced.
If you feel the call, make the call. Schedule an appointment, show up for surgery. Trust in the process, trust in the doctors, trust in the plants.
You will be far better off for it.
If you’d like to read more about ayahuasca in general and the process of an intensive plant dieta, feel free to check out the Dieta Diaries — 100 pages providing a behind-the-scenes look at a complete surgery of the soul — from beginning to end and all the messy glory in-between.
If you have any questions, feel free to reach out.
If you hear the calling, if you feel the need to heal, considering attending an Apotheosis Retreat. Thousands of hours have gone into making a safe, open, secure environment for you, and we would love to welcome you to our humble hospital for humans.
I'm a creator, artist, writer, and experience designer. I help people become themselves.