I was a totally broken man when I first sat in a medicine plant ceremony.
I’d recently separated from my wife (and child), my dog (and only friend at the time) had died horribly and I’d buried him in the deep snow—I’d sat there for a week next to the fire I lit on his grave. Then I’d moved from there, my home of seven years, to a new city, country, people and language.
I remember the first night in that new place.
If I’d been any more un-grounded, I would have floated off to orbit some distant moon, back to the stars.
And right before the ceremony?
Three months of four different kinds of antibiotics for eight recurrences of conjunctivitis.
So, that was the state I was in when Santiago came from Ecuador and I sat with “La Familia” around the sacred fire and drank their medicine, listened to their songs and was really f*cking cold all night long.
It was a chilly, damp, clear night in May.
We were on a hill in the middle of an organic plum plantation in the beautiful Croatian countryside.
I remember being surprised at how gentle the medicine was, how subtle. And I was disappointed. I’d expected something more. I wanted to feel more.
And as the ceremony reached its climax, Santiago began to pray to the water of life.
And he prayed a prayer of gratitude, on and on, for an hour. Two hours. For the water, for the same water that bathed and delighted and quenched our ancestors.
The same water that flows through all our veins and feeds our foods.
The water that is the water of life.
And I felt my anger rising, my irritation growing.
That voice in my head grating against so much gratitude.
This isn’t for me.
I want to lie down and sleep. Daylight is coming. The birds are singing. Let me get back to my misery.
I looked over my shoulder, over the hills behind me, and there was the moon, rising above the trees. Just a sliver—a new moon.
And from nowhere a smile began to rise with her in me.
And not long after that the sun rose, following the arc of the moon.
And suddenly something in me snapped.
I wasn’t just hearing the Shaman’s words, I was listening to his voice.
And I felt his gratitude. I felt his most heartfelt and sincere thanks that he was sending out as an arrow to the universe, to great spirit, to his family. The family that was sat around the fire, nodding, smiling and so present.
My perception shifted, I felt his gratitude and I really saw him for a moment.
And I really saw his assistant—“the most beautifully powerful woman I’ve ever seen” I thought.
And I saw his masculine energy, like the sun, like the Father.
And I saw her feminine energy, like the moon, like the Mother.
And in that moment I had a vision:
Side by side, that present moment and the pure love that was around that fire, with that family. And the other kind of love I’d experienced as a child—a love with rules and conditions and conformity and fear.
And I started crying. Deep pure clear tears of gratitude, for what I’d found around that fire.
Don’t get me wrong—my childhood was beautiful in many ways.
But we can only love another (truly love)—even our own children—as much as we love ourselves.
The gratitude flowed through me like a river.
I’d been dammed up for quite some time,and there were still many tears that needed to come after that night.
But that night was truly a turning point.
Many of us—most of us—maybe even all of us—don’t really know what love is.
We have been fed all kinds of ideas, definitions and stories about it.
But I can’t tell someone what an apple tastes like.
And I can’t tell someone what love is.
You feel love and know it or you don’t.
And many of us don’t love ourselves. Not really.
Because we weren’t given love—didn’t have it modeled for us—have hardly ever seen it!
Can you tell me what love is, even?
I’ll tell you how I see it.
Love is all there is.
It’s just reality when reality is perceived without a filter.
Love is the power that flows through a seed turning it into a tree. Love is the power that holds the planets in their orbits.
Love is the power that informs each cell as it becomes the cell of a limb, or a liver, or a vein or an eyelash.
Love is the power that brings two people together to make a child.
Love is the power.
Love is reality when there is no filter.
The filter is fear.
And when we can let our guard down, become free of the constraints imposed upon us by society, by our ancestral heritage, then we are in love. Because that’s the world we’re in—that’s what it’s made of.
That’s what we’re made of.
When you know that you are love, then all is love.
Then there are no conditions.
With eyes of love all we see is love and we accept everyone. We love everyone.
And we want to serve.
We become a valuable and valued member of the community we serve.
And the children emulate that.
And that is real family.
That is real community.
That’s my medicine.
Author: Ben Ralston
Editor: Ashleigh Hitchcock
Photo: courtesy of author