5 Things You Need To Know About Working With Visionary Plant Teachers

by Katherine Coder

From Enlightenment to Disillusionment to Wholeness

Quick fixes are spiritual myths.

The unfolding and unwinding of our soul “knots” is a lifelong journey, replete with the sometimes maddening, chaotic, and terrifying moments along the way.

I wish there was a quick fix, personally, as I’ve spent the last 20 years of my life healing, growing, and becoming more of my essential self.

I turned to visionary plant medicine and entheogens shortly after finishing a doctorate in transpersonal psychology in California. I felt intuitively that there was just something that I was missing — some part of myself that I could not access but that was essential to my healing. I had no idea what It was, but I knew I had been dancing around It for some years.

And, perhaps after years of therapy, spiritual practices, workshops, etc, it was time to bring in a psychospiritual crowbar. At least, that was my thought process back then.

That thought process led to 4 years of intensive ceremony work, including a wild and horrifying multi-year misadventure with a charlatan shaman, being completely seduced and assimilated with the vegetal world, working as a psilocybin guide, many beautiful, revelatory experiences, and, finally, a dose of iboga that revealed what I had been searching for all of those years.

In those 4 years of intensity, I pushed my physical body to a breaking point, and I had to come to a deep personal reckoning of what it meant for me to be healthy, grounded, and of service to the world.

Reaching my breaking point meant that I was forced to see my own need to integrate my work with sacred plant medicine.

I was forced to see that I had been seduced by this world of visionary plant ceremony and had lost myself to its way of being. I had given up my own essence subtly to join this world of mystery, magic, and expansion, and I took on this world’s identity as my own.

What you will read next are some of the fruits of those labors of chaos, madness and beauty.

After 2 years of steady integration, I’m offering you some of what has helped me find the balance between the healing opportunity made available with visionary plant medicine and what we need to do to fully embrace that opportunity.

So, what is visionary plant medicine integration?

Visionary plant medicine integration is the process by which a visionary plant medicine practitioner is transformed by the teachings, visions, and experiences from visionary plant medicine experiences and incorporates those changes into daily life. Visionary plant medicine integration can often necessitate attending to traumas to release them fully; understanding the manifestations of ego in one’s day-to-day experience; and, practicing new ways of thinking, conceptualizing, and being that are in alignment with wisdom teachings.

What You Need to Know about Visionary Plant Medicine Practice

  1. Deep Personal Change is Challenging (Even With Plant Teachers)


Releasing old patterns means that something has to die and be reborn. We all have this place inside of us that recoils at the thought of death and dying. The ego hates any end to its continuity and will do anything to persist, even if it means resorting to self-destructive or other-destructive behavior.

The ego serves us deeply by being able to give us a sense of personhood in the world and pull together a teeming mass of impulses, thoughts, emotions, and sensations and give us a moderately coherent sense of “I” with which to face the world. In this sense, the ego is very important and helps us function in the everyday world.

Beyond that rudimentary sense of I, however, is a hodgepodge collection of habits of mind, body, and feelings. If our early life was unsupportive or unhealthy in any way, the ego had to develop a work around to get us through until we reached a time and place where we are strong enough to reconstruct ourselves in a healthier way.

With significant, deep, early, and/or chronic traumas, the workarounds we develop are wired in tightly into the oldest parts of our ego and often go unchallenged for much of our lives, even if they are self-destructive or profoundly unhealthy. These workarounds become deeply embedded patterns that play on repeat over and over again.

Many never reach a place in their lives where they are secure enough to face these deep patterns head on. Not being able to face these patterns head on occurs often because the right kind of support doesn’t become available and so life continues as best it can while colliding with the unhealthy pattern over and over again. Not turning towards these patterns is hampered by our social milieu.

Our current Western social structures also often reinforce habits of turning away from our deeper patterns through the pressures of modern stress, lack of education regarding emotional and psychological health, and the discounting of the importance of such work as well as through the incredible amount of distraction our information age offers.

The challenge to the ego is simple: These patterns provide a continuity of self. The ego literally is able to recognize itself by experiencing these patterns repeating. Physiologically speaking even, the body rewards the pattern repeating with a nice hit of dopamine, putting even more reinforcement behind the pattern itself. When the ego sees the pattern happening, it says, “Hey that’s me. I exist.” And, the ego wants to exist. When the ego feels like it doesn’t exist, it becomes disturbed. Psychologically speaking this could look like psychosis and/or feel like one is losing their mind and all touch with reality or this could feel like existential discomfort.

So, it does not matter that the egoic house of cards is built on a shoddy foundation. The ego much prefers to continue to stack the cards up than replacing the foundation. Replacing the rotted foundation is equated to death, and death is perceived as highly threatening.

This dynamic in the ego proves to be the most challenging aspect of moving into healthy patterns and letting go of that in our lives that which is generally not serving us. Letting go of those patterns means throwing our ego into what it sees as the arms of death. It also means losing that physiological dopamine-reward-carrot and can even mean feeling withdrawal from the old, self-destructive pattern. What this means is that we have to be strong enough when we want to change for the better.

A sacred plant teacher can show you the patterns — their points of origination and how they constellate in your life — but the work of repatterning has to be done in the here and now, in your day-to-day life, and that takes time, discipline, and good support. Entirely new neural pathways have to be created and used over and over again for these changes to occur!

2. You Cannot Blast Yourself into a Healed State

(In other words, repeated peak experiences do not equal healing.)

Spiritual bypassing is an idea coined by John Welwood that refers to the “use of spiritual practices and beliefs to avoid dealing with our painful feelings, unresolved wounds, and developmental needs” (Masters, 2010, p. 1). As you can imagine, most of us want to find a way not to feel our pain. If we are spiritual seekers, we may find a very clever strategy to avoid and numb our pain through the use of spiritual practices.

While spiritual bypassing has many forms, the most popular forms for visionary plant medicine users likely include delusions of having arrived at a more advanced level of being, devaluation of the personal relative to the spiritual, and overemphasis on the positive (Masters, 2010).

As Masters (2010) so aptly writes, “True spirituality is not a high, not a rush, not an altered state. . . . Authentic spirituality is a vast fire of liberation, an exquisitely fitting crucible and sanctuary, providing both heat and light for the healing we need” (p. 3).

The importance of psychological and emotional healing cannot be overstated. For the most part, psychological and emotional issues cannot be worked out with spiritual practice alone. No amount of meditating is going to completely resolve your strained relationships with your family of origin, for example.

The key to spiritual bypassing seems to be the desire to avoid pain and suffering and attempting to use spiritual practice to do so.

A mature view of spirituality means “no escape, no need for escape, and utter freedom through limitation and every sort of difficulty” (Masters, 2010, p. 42). Steering our ship right into the heart of our pain means engaging in shadow work, defined by Masters (2010) as “the practice of acknowledging, facing, engaging, and integrating what we have turned away from, disowned, or otherwise rejected in ourselves” (p. 43).

One of the motivations for visionary plant medicine use that I hear and read of frequently is the desire to fast track spiritual growth and/or healing. The idea is that one can reach the same state as someone who has meditated for 40 years, for example, in a single evening. Why sit in meditation for decades when a plant teacher can take you there in a matter of minutes or hours? The rationale seems logical on its face, especially when a number of indigenous traditions have used these technologies for hundreds of years, if not longer.

Unfortunately, visiting a state of “enlightenment” for a few minutes or hours is “akin to saying that we have reached the top of Mount Everest when in fact we’ve just been comfortably helicoptered there for a brief, well-insulated landing. Not having taken the climb, and thus not engaged in any of the lessons of such a challenging trek, leaves us far less capable of appreciating where we are than if we had actually made the climb. Theoretically we may have arrived, but with so little of ourselves actually there, we cannot call it a true arrival” (Masters, 2010, p. 39).

Trying to take shortcuts only prolongs the process of true psychospiritual healing and development. At a certain point of understanding, you realize that time is basically irrelevant. The process takes as long as it takes, and there is no value judgment placed on the time taken. When we get really real with ourselves and our desire to shortcut, we usually undercover a desire to avoid or limit pain felt. When we can relax into the knowing that taking steps forward and into our shadow is all that is required, the path becomes simple — not easy but simple nonetheless.

3. Your Native/Mestizo Shaman Doesn’t Always Know How to Help You


It is important to understand that traditional forms of visionary plant use by mestizo and indigenous populations often had different goals in mind than Western (or Northern American) practitioners do. Psilocybe mushrooms, for example, were used for physical maladies such as fever, chills, acne, and toothache along with cultural-bound syndromes including soul loss, witchcraft, and hexes (Winkelman, 2007).

Westerners most often seek help with spiritual development, emotional healing and unresolved trauma, connecting with the sacred, and personal awareness development. Westerners assume that they will gain “increased self awareness, personal insights, and access to deeper levels of the self that enhanced personal development and expressions of the higher self, providing direction in life” (Winkelman, 2007, pp. 163–64).

As Labate et al., (2014) writes,

“Grassroots Amazonian shamans have to contend with an uneasy transition from traditional ayahuasca shamanism, including divination, sorcery, and curing sorcery-inflicted wounds, to using ayahuasca for self-exploration and to cater to Westerner’s hopes of healing both physical and emotional ailments. Simultaneously, they are involved, either directly or indirectly, in local interethnic exchanges among indigenous groups” (p. 8).

With these two very different goals in mind, we can understand why the process of use by indigenous/mestizo populations could be very different from that of the Westerner (Losonczy & Cappo, 2014). These differing goals and radically different settings and cultural contexts would seem to necessitate different ways of working with these medicines effectively.

I argue that the Western practitioner cannot effectively adopt the visionary plant medicine practices of native/mestizo tribes without modification. Our lifestyles, cultural contexts, social conditioning, needs, histories, mentality, and goals for use are simply too divergent. Westerners need competent cultural meditators to help them translate the work of the plants with their goals for healing.

4. The Seduction is Real.

And I know because I lived it.

I see many people becoming assimilated into the vegetal world. They go from ceremony to ceremony, as often as twice a month or more. Their lives become completely wrapped up in the worlds of ayahuasca or San Pedro, et cetera, and they move farther and farther away from realizing that they have, perhaps, become lost in a world made to visit but not to inhabit.

Assimilation by the vegetal world is common. The plants have a strong desire for you to be a part of their world. Without realizing it, part of your psyche can begin to think that it is a plant. This confusion can propel you unconsciously to continue your visionary plant medicine activity without questioning frequency of use and/or whether you are integrating the teachings and visions you have received.

I was fortunate that I had three separate healers that I trusted reflect back to me that I had become assimilated into the vegetal world. One healer had to remind my body consciousness that it was not a plant. Another healer reminded my mind that the vegetal world was only one of several levels of consciousness to master. And, the third confirmed for me that the plants do possess these assimilation qualities.

Another strong aspect of seduction into visionary plant medicine circles is the strong desire humans have for connection, love, and belonging. These topics have been written about widely. Abraham Maslow (Daniels, 2013) strongly identified these needs as part of his famous hierarchy of needs popularized through the humanistic school of psychology. More recently, social work researcher, author, and speaker Brené Brown (2012, 2015) deeply explores these needs as part of the essential fabric of humanity and our sense of wholeness.

The tribal nature of most ceremonies uses a set and setting that we are deeply familiar with on a base human level and one that is profoundly appealing to a Western psyche (Walsh & Grob, 2007). As one of my teachers Malidoma Patrice Some said, we know it in our bones. Being outdoors, sitting in a circle, being in a group, joined in the middle with a fire, flanked by an altar, and serenaded by music calls us back to a time when we all lived in tribes, close to the earth and the elements, and in communion with our surroundings.

A challenge for the modern psyche is that while the tribal perspective is deeply appealing, “we must not idealize it” (Goldsmith, 2007, p. 125). The tribal perspective is not more evolved than our modern one.

My experience of visionary plant medicine practice was a deep awakening to a feeling of connection, love, and belonging that was aided by the tribal set and setting but that also went beyond it. Longing for this ancient familiarity can be deep, especially when we lack a deep feeling of love, belonging, and connection in our own day-to-day lives. If we lack these feelings, we can find ourselves returning to visionary plant medicine not because we need it for our growth and/or healing, but because it is temporarily filling a void we have and/or helping us “take the edge off” of the pain we feel regularly. To know whether your visionary plant medicine practice is temporarily filling a void or helping you heal requires a deep level of discernment and, often, outside expert guidance.

5. Taking Personal Responsibility Means Doing the Work of Integration

If there was a teaching I received over and over again, it was the plant teachers’ insistence on me taking personal responsibility for my life and for finally growing up.

While there was always another invitation to a ceremony that held the promise of putting another dent in my work of healing, the truth was, I needed to hear the teaching of the plants that said the more important work was outside of ceremony.

I needed to get my physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual wellbeing on track, and I could not even know what the baselines were on those fronts were until I got off the ride and let myself reground.

Turning away from the ceremonial work was painful, and I grieved the loss of that community, but the call to integration and living the teachings of the plants in my daily life was more powerful. That call felt more true to my own sense of integrity.

I remembered that before I began in this visionary plant world that my deepest call was towards wholeness.

That call towards wholeness and the guidance for it did not reside in the teaching of the plants: It resided in the deepest parts of my own being.

And so I took responsibility for myself again by attuning to what I felt was needed for my own integration. My integration has looked like a deep physical detox to help my brain and body reground; long-term intensive work with an energetic healer to clear deep rooted karmic patterns and psychic attack; and, psychotherapy and trauma release work to attend to the trauma that iboga revealed. I also had to change the entire focus of my private practice to stay in my own integrity. Throughout it all, I processed deeply with trusted friends and soul family, spent time in nature, and made my life anew.

Integrating has been humbling. It also has brought me back to a depth of grounding that I had never had before. And, perhaps because of it, Spirit has blessed me with a child and the opportunity to be a mother and the ground for a new soul coming into the world.

Many blessings to you in your journey!


Much of this article is taken from my new guidebook on integration, After the Ceremony Ends: A Companion Guide to Help You Integrate Visionary Plant Medicine Experiences, which is now for sale on Amazon. If you are interested to know more, you are welcome to reach out to me.


Brown, B. (2012). Daring greatly. New York, NY: Avery.

Brown. B. (2015). Rising strong. London, UK: Vermilion.

Daniels, M. (2013). Traditional roots, history, and evolution of the transpersonal perspective (pp. 23–43). In The Wiley-Blackwell handbook of transpersonal psychology (H. L. Friedman and G. Hartelius, Eds.). West Sussex, UK: Wiley Blackwell.

Goldsmith, N. (2007). The ten lessons of psychedelic psychotherapy, rediscovered. In M. J. Winkelman and T. B. Roberts (Eds.), Psychedelic medicine: New evidence for hallucinogenic substances as treatments (pp. 107–141). Westport, CT: Praeger.

Labate, B. C., Cavnar, C., & Freedman, F. B. (2014). Notes on the expansion and reinvention of ayahuasca shamanism. In B. C. Labate and C. Canvar (Eds.), Ayahuasca shamanism in the Amazon and beyond (pp. 3–15). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Losonczy, A. M., & Cappo, S. M. (2014). Ritualized misunderstanding between uncertainty, agreement, and rupture: Communication patterns in Euro-American ayahuasca ritual interactions. In B. C. Labate and C. Canvar (Eds.), Ayahuasca shamanism in the Amazon and beyond (pp. 105–29). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Masters, R. A. (2010). Spiritual bypassing: When spirituality disconnects us from what really matters. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books.

Walsh, R., & Grob, C. S. (2007). Psychological health and growth. In M. J. Winkelman and T. B. Roberts (Eds.), Psychedelic medicine: New evidence for hallucinogenic substances as treatments (pp. 213–25). Westport, CT: Praeger.

Winkelman (2007). Shamanic guidelines for psychedelic medicine. In M. J. Winkelman and T. B. Roberts (Eds.), Psychedelic medicine: New evidence for hallucinogenic substances as treatments (pp. 143–67). Westport, CT: Praeger.




How Shamans Dream the World into Being



By Alberto Villoldo on Friday March 11th, 2016

The power to dream is the power to participate in creation itself

We are what we think.
Everything we are arises from our thoughts.
With our thinking we create the world.
– Buddha

Whether you realize it or not, we are all dreaming the world into being. What we’re engaging in is not the sleeping dream we’re familiar with, but the waking dream we craft with our eyes open. When we’re unaware that we all share the power to co-create reality with the help of the universe itself, that power slips away from us and our dream turns into a nightmare. We begin to feel we’re the victims of an unknown and frightening creation that we’re unable to influence or change. Events seem to control us and trap us.

The only way to end this dreadful reality is to awaken to the fact that it, too, is a dream, and recognize our ability to write a better story, one that the universe will work with us to manifest. As soon as you awaken to your power to dream, you begin to flex the muscles of your courage. Then you can dream bravely: letting go of your limiting beliefs and pushing past your fears. You can begin to create truly original dreams that germinate in your soul and bear fruit in your life.

The Courage to Dream Bravely

Courageous dreaming allows you to create from the source, the quantum soup of the universe where everything exists in a latent or potential state. Physicists understand that in the quantum world of the universe’s smallest, elemental parts, nothing is “real” until it is observed. But quantum events do not occur in the laboratory only. They also happen inside our brain, on this page, and everywhere around us. When you observe any part of this dream, the great matrix of energy, you can change reality and alter the entire dream.

Modern physics is describing what the ancient wisdomkeepers of the Americas have long known. These shamans, known as the Earthkeepers, say that we are dreaming the world into being through the very act of witnessing it. Scientists believe that we are only able to do this in the very small, subatomic world. Shamans understand that we also dream the larger world that we experience with our senses. Like the Aborigines, the Earthkeepers live in a world where the dreamtime has not been pushed into the domain of sleep like it has for us. They know that all of creation arises from, and returns to, this dreamtime.

The Dreamtime

The dreamtime, the creative matrix, does not exist in a place outside of us. Rather, it infuses all matter and energy, connecting every creature, every rock, every star, and every ray of light or bit of cosmic dust. The power to dream is the power to participate in creation itself. For the Earthkeepers, dreaming reality is not only an ability, but a duty, one we must perform with grace and love so that our grandchildren will inherit a world where they can live in peace and abundance.

Shamans of the Andes and the Amazon believe that we can only access the power of this force by raising our level of consciousness. When we do so, we become aware that we’re like a drop of water in a vast, divine ocean, distinct yet immersed in something much larger than ourselves. It’s only when we experience our connection to infinity that we’re able to dream powerfully. In fact, it’s our sense of separation from infinity that makes us become trapped in a nightmare in the first place. To end the nightmare, to reclaim our power of dreaming reality and craft a better reality, we need to have a visceral understanding of our dreaming power in every cell of our body and stop feeling disassociated and disconnected. If we don’t get beyond mere intellectual understanding of this concept, we’ll end up lowering the bar and creating a far less glorious and beautiful experience of the world than we’re capable of crafting. It takes courage to taste infinity.

Who Dreams the World?

The Earthkeepers believe that the world is real, but only because we are dreaming it into being. When we lack courage, we have to settle for the world that is being dreamed by our culture or by our genes — the nightmare. To dream courageously and be empowered, you must be willing to use your heart and make a conscious decision to dream a sacred dream of joy, peace, glory and having the life you want.

Excerpted with permission from Courageous Dreaming: How Shamans Dream The World Into Being by Alberto Villoldo, PhD. (2008, Hay House)

Alberto Villoldo, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and psychologist who has studied the spiritual practices of the Amazon and the Andes for more than 25 years. Author of numerous best-selling books, including Shaman, Healer, Sage, The Four Insights, Courageous Dreaming and Power Up Your Brain, Alberto is the founder of The Four Winds Society, and instructs individuals throughout the world in the practice of energy medicine.

Feature image: Selection from DOUNIA by Luis Tamani


How Shamans Dream the World into Being

The Modern Shaman: Fierce Love at the Frontier of Madness

Luis Tamani_serpent visions


By Jack Adam Weber

Contributing Writer for Wake Up World

Shamans and Revolutionaries don’t preach to the choir, where confirmation bias is high. They go where they are unpopular, to reach those not far from the next step into sanity.

But such sanity doesn’t feel like sanity at first. This is called a healing crisis. Healing crises get worse before they get better, but the result is deeper integration, wisdom, and wellness. But because healing crises are not pretty or tidy or conducive to business as usual, they are not so popular and thereby often thought worthless or irrelevant.

But nothing could be further from the truth.

Our world is in a disease crisis precisely because we have failed to heed the shaman’s message, spoken through many great courage voices—the voices urging us into healing crises to prevent unrelenting illness. Because we have collectively denied our transformations—which necessarily entails embracing the dark—we have created a strange, ironic, and paradoxical disease state on the planet. But not a surprising one.

This absurd paradox is that the dark we have denied inside ourselves is descending upon us outwardly, in the form of all the atrocities we see: from toxic agriculture to pervasive political corruption, to recent assassinations of women activists in Mexico and Latin America, fundamentalist terrorist groups such as ISIS, and the ravages of climate change chaos.

Our modern-day malady follows Yin-Yang wisdom: when inner (Yin) is diseased, it manifests outwardly (Yang), and vice versa. To reverse what is still reversible, we have to become the shamans that embrace Yin-Yang wisdom as the transformation of one polarity into the other. While light-workers are many, we now have to take our light and tend to the darkness with firm action and hands-on change.

Shamans rely on darkness, because all injury and disease pertain to the dark half of Yin-Yang. But this darkness is not evil or to be avoided, as the propaganda about witches, hell, and paganism have tried to convince us. This is the terrain for transformation. The shaman, the healer, illuminates the darkness that others don’t, can’t, or won’t see. All who deny the pain of the Earth and humanity today are such liars. When the shaman notices and embodies the dark, she makes it fertile, transformable, so dark can become light, which is the mark of true healing and sustainability. When darkness is denied it never gets to see the daylight of healing.

Shamans are less concerned with fitting in than they are following their calling in service of the bigger picture, the longer trajectory of integrity. Because they have found their own wholeness, cultivated bravery and courage, and found genuine sovereignty by making the dark conscious, they are okay being mavericks, being alone, and even feeling lonely. But a sense of calling and truth keeps them company, even when the majority dismisses them, or ridicule and try to get rid of them.

If a shaman, a revolutionary healer, becomes popular, she needs to check if she has dumbed-down her heart-mind, or if others have merely awakened. Such discernment requires a clear mind, an honest appraisal of oneself and other, which is never perfectly accurate, because we all carry some degree of shadow. But, the more she knows herself and has trained in being her own skeptic and genuine believer, the more accurate she becomes in assessments of reality.


Such healers must orient towards feeling this edge of radical discomfort (which paradoxically becomes an only security), not the comfy fluff of their own ego, a light without darkness, for the latter of these are to not shake the status quo, to revolutionize, to truly heal. We cannot have immaturity and greed at the frontier of our future, as we do today. The more of us that descend into and heal our own darkness the more we can rise up and truly wake up, the more we are able to rattle and perhaps one day topple the cages that hold us, to set ourselves and the more-than-human world free.

Let us embrace the light to illuminate the darkness. Let us become more radical, yet at the same time reasonable and deeply compassionate. This is to ride the razor’s edge into the future, becoming the healers we’ve waited for to cut through the bullshit of modern living and the many lies and myths and soul-loss we’ve all been part of for too long—all the lies of the industrial revolution and mutilations of Earth-based wisdom.

Rise up, Earth Warriors! Rise up wild sanity! We need a shift back to normal, the normal that looks so damn strange to the creeps in power and the status quo. Yet true to the paradox of healing that looks ugly in the form of healing crises, and true to the nature of genuine transformation, we must become Yin for Yang and Yang for Yin. We must sink deep into ourselves in order to bring out what is most genuine, most passionate, most wise and comprehensively excellent.

This is to become the deep change. Once we do this, darkness on the outside can recede, having lost its momentum through our own repression, no longer needing to mirror to us what we have forgotten. This is revolution in action, not just praying or wishing for it. This is not the fluffy light-ball material of easy comforts. It’s to use that feel-good love to get fierce, to become a little more hardcore and effect the deep change we need.

This is how we train to be Warriors, true shamans. And we emerge activists, because we have seen and felt what it means to be hurt and abused, fractioned and compromised, held down and denied. Once we salvage ourselves, it’s only natural to want it for others, for the entire more-than-human world that has suffered at the behest of the infertile darkness we humans are now charged to lighten with our dark and light love pressing for more light and justice.

Let us save and celebrate what is left and renewable, beginning with our own hearts and minds, the Earth and her wonders. Walk strongly yet gently, with huge yet specific love …



Reblogged with the kind permission of Wake Up World