Via a Llayzhatan Bajo, Ecuador
I went to a 12 day retreat at Gaia Sagrada in July 2015 (this was my first experience with Ayahuasca and San Pedro). It was the most important experience of my life.
Medicine – The most crucial thing, in my opinion, is the respect that is given to the plant medicines at Gaia Sagrada. Everything stems from this. The place has a purpose and philosophy, and I recommend anyone considering it to invest the time in reading through their website. It also helps that they don?t limit how much medicine one can drink during the ceremonies; you don?t want that constraint when on a transformational journey.
Shamans – The shamans at Gaia are incredible! Their expertise and care sets them apart. They are gentle when possible and strong for you when needed. At the end, you will just look at them and experience gratitude that goes beyond words. They are wise and share their wisdom in an accessible way. For a non-Spanish speaker, it was important for me that they spoke English so I could communicate with them without any language barriers. The combination of Christine and the South American shamans makes for a unique and wonderful experience.
Ceremonies – The ceremonies are absolutely beautiful. There is so much meaning to every act, and as the plant medicines open you to learning, you start understanding why things are done the way they are. The most beautiful images I remember from my time at Gaia are from the ceremonies – peering out at the gorgeous night from inside the sweat lodge, food laid out in front of the fire at the end of a San Pedro ceremony, the shamans singing by the fire, etc. Even when the medicine was giving me a hard time, the beauty of the ceremonies would give me faith and strength to push through. Also, I don?t think the sweat lodge ceremony is available in most other retreats. For me personally, this was the game-changer. I now divide my life as Before-Sweatlodge and After-Sweatlodge.
Safety – I remember being scared right up to the time I arrived at Gaia Sagrada, and after that it was just apprehension and not fear. This is because I truly believe that our safety and wellbeing is a primary concern at Gaia Sagrada; we are being looked after in ways we don’t even know of. I cannot stress how important this is. With these plant medicines, most of us are participating in something that is far beyond our understanding. You better trust the people who are taking you on this journey with your life. And this level of safety let me focus on my healing rather than worry about things.
Community – The work exchangers, who pretty much run the place, are the most wonderful bunch of human beings I’ve had the pleasure of knowing. Just thinking about them now is filling my heart. I felt so loved and cared for because of them. I never for an instant felt alone in the journey I was undertaking. The first couple of ceremonies were pretty harsh for me, and several of the work exchangers took time out from their busy days to sit and talk to me, help me understand, share their own experiences. This made all the difference in the world. I learnt so much by talking to them, working with them, and just plain being in their presence. Christine puts a lot of thought into who are the people she brings into the center to support us. The work exchangers have walked a variety of paths and have a lot of wisdom to share. These people are my role models in love and empathy. I spent so much time talking and laughing with them, and those moments will always remain precious to me. They are my friends now, and I think of them every single day.
Facilities – Before I got to Gaia Sagrada, I didn’t give much importance to the living conditions, thinking – “I’ve lived rough before, comfort is not important to me during this retreat”. Boy was I wrong. Because of the challenges you are putting yourself through, facilities and comfort become extremely important! A good night’s rest will help you make the most of the ceremony the next day. An extra couple of blanket will help you focus on learning rather than the cold. Time in the hot tub after a ceremony will help you make sense of the things you are discovering. The retreat is located in a massive, breath-taking estate, with beautiful trees everywhere you look. Being in such a place after a ceremony is like a lesson in being able to see the beauty that constantly surrounds us.
Fellow retreaters – The bond that is formed by undertaking this journey together is very special, and a sense of family is quickly formed among the retreaters. It is important that everyone feels comfortable sharing their deepest thoughts, things that remain bottled-up in the real world. And Gaia Sagrada has a special quality that attracts like-minded individuals who love and support one another. All my fellow retreaters are my family now, and I continue to share my experience with them even after the retreat.
Finances – I personally feel that the cost of the retreat is small when compared to all that is gained from it, and how good the facilities and ceremonies are. Furthermore, I feel so positive that my hard-earned money went to furthering such a wonderful vision that Gaia Sagrada has.
Healing/Transformation – At the end of the day, this is the purpose for Gaia Sagrada?s existence – to help people heal or transform. Everything is oriented around maximizing this – the schedule, the ceremonies, the facilities, the entire estate. You get as much out of the 12 days as is possible. And this should be the only reason one should go to a retreat – to heal or transform (I would just use the word heal, but looking back, I don?t think I would?ve understood it before experiencing the ceremonies).
Advice for first-timers – This was the most challenging experience of my life. It was incredibly difficult at times – mentally, emotionally, physically. But the reward was 1000 times greater than the challenge. So go in knowing that it will demand every ounce of strength you have. Take the time to make sure that you are ready. I spent a whole day meditating over this decision and finally came to the answer as yes. Two years ago, I wouldn?t have been ready. Once there, pay attention to what the shamans and Christine say, they have such a deep understanding of these medicines. And remember that what you get from the experience is in proportion to what you put into it. While I was there, my entire focus was on learning and healing, and I am a better human being for it.
I will be going back to Gaia Sagrada as often as once every year after this. I was blessed enough to find this incredible place in my very first exposure to plant medicine, and I can?t imagine a better environment to heal in. Gaia Sagrada has the same place in my heart as the home I grew up in. Crazy how life-changing 12 days can be.