American Shamanism Takes Root (Part II)

Part two of yesterday’s article.

The Journey (Call of the Root)

Twelve hours after his first experience with ayahuasca, Guzman emerged from the ceremonial whirlwind a different man than the one who entered.

“Growing up, I was force fed the same type of education that many of us are,” he explains. “You go to school, land a good job, save up money, and maybe retire one day. It’s based around the idea that making money is the key to happiness.”

So that was what he did. Guzman spent his formative years chasing dollar signs, and by the age of 19 he’d already amassed more money than most of the adults around him.

Years later, the expenditure of energy necessary to reach such a fortune took its a toll. The ceaseless drive to accumulate wealth meant losing it time and time again. The more Guzman grasped through his desires, the emptier he felt inside.

To combat the pervasive void staring back at him, he tried enacting radical changes that might alter the trajectory of his life, and hopefully shatter any growing apathy. He married, backpacked around the world, served time in jail, divorced, and even plunged headlong into the solitude of life alone in the wilderness for nearly four months. Yet despite the insistent willpower for meaningful reflection and change, he found no respite.

Rather than turning inward, Guzman opted to train his reflexive commitment to self-improvement on those he encountered along his journey. He trained to become a luminary force of guidance for others in need, which saw him embrace the roles of business coach, personal development coach, and relationship coach.

Trinity de Guzman.

Though he proved keenly insightful to the sensitive desires of his clients, and enjoyed the pleasures reaped through helping them to create what they valued most, Guzman felt all of his noble efforts continued to ring hollow.

“I kept facing the same question at the end of each day,” he admits. “Why am I here? I know that I’m supposed to help others, but how am I really supposed to do it?”

In 2014, a long stint of restless traveling sent him drifting to the far reaches of the Amazon. In the heart of one of the world’s oldest rainforests, Guzman happened upon a retreat designed to introduce the life-changing powers of ayahuasca to local Peruvians.

He agreed to take part in an initiation ceremony. What was there left to lose?

The real question, he soon discovered, was the exact inverse: how far could the potential benefits of this miraculous experience extend?

A pot of ayahuasca set to boil

Eyes that surveyed the world through a dull sheen only days before were suddenly cast alight with fiery incandescence. Guzman finally understood the calling that he strained to see for so many years.

Bidding farewell to the cloudy and mountainous beauty of a land brimming with secrets, Guzman returned west, overflowing with answers.

Finding a New Home

“I had to follow the breadcrumbs,” he shares with a laugh. He sounds like he’s told the story a thousand times before, but with the enthusiasm of someone doing it for the first time. “And one day this land just presented itself to me.”

A glimpse of the Ayahuasca Healing Retreat landscape.

The land is an 160-acre stretch of wilderness located just outside the 29-person population town of Elbe, WA. It tumbles down through crags and dense forest into a valley nestled between the peaks of Mt. Adams, Mt. Rainier, and Mt. St. Helens. The trinity of mountains, or Apus as Guzman refers to them in their cosmological form, spoke to him collectively during his first visit. He heard a guiding spirit capable of watching over those who passed through.

A lone river divides the territory’s many fields. It’s a symbol that Guzman internalized to stand for momentum; an unshakable backbone to the process of cleansing transformation.

All signs confirmed that this location marked the idyllic setting Guzman envisaged earlier during his return journey from South America. He sought the perfect retreat for Americans to leave their daily cycles behind, to taste the wonder of a forbidden fruit that could set them free, that could assist them in realizing their true potential.

The idyllic lake and guesthouse.

Like a serendipitous boomerang, he found it.

“I truly believe that what you seek is seeking you,” he says. “So I just followed one step at a time and knew when we were finally there.”

Last month Guzman officially acquired the land. Under the moniker Ayahuasca Healings, he successfully co-founded the first retreat in the country to legally administer ayahuasca rituals to the public. And while ayahuasca does contain a Schedule I controlled substance, due to certain legal loopholes concerning sacred practices, use is permitted in strictly religious settings.

The spiritual roots of Guzman’s organization already enjoined him in a lifelong bond with the Oklevueha Native Americans of the region, and through affiliation, Ayahuasca Healings attained its legal church status at the end of 2015.

In the short time since, Guzman and countless supporters have designed an immersive experience specifically curtailed to American life. Nine-to-five workers don’t need to worry about requesting weeks off from their jobs to make room for extended ventures to Peru. Rather, a three day experience–spanning Friday through Sunday–can accommodate a normal work week and still contain the powerful wisdom that yage ceremonies are believed to offer.

The retreat begins with an initiation process and clearing of the cosmic palette, so to speak. Guzman asserts that the preparation and reintegration stages are integral, and perhaps even more important, than the ceremony itself.

The first day consists of settling in. Visitors unpack, dine together, assemble for group meditation, yoga, and self reflection before joining in a Native American sweat lodge ceremony.

Tipis provide lodgings for the guests.

Guests file into a large Tipi, where ceremony leaders slowly pile red-hot stones into a pit dug at the center of the lodge. Next, water is poured onto the stones and evaporates instantly. The temple space fills with steam that massages the body, and is said to help release any traces of physical, emotional, or spiritual dissonance.

“In the beginning, it’s very much about cleansing,” Guzman explains.

“People are coming from cities where there’s so much density and energy created by their own stresses. Deadlines, the pollutants in the air, traffic, the media, even music–everything around us, in a way, dampens even our brightest lights in the city.”

It’s only when you retreat back to nature, he adds, that you can really remember the greater truth of harmony.

After a sound night of sleep and dreams, visitors rise with the morning sun to partake in a San Pedro (or peyote) ceremony. Visions from the hallucinogenic cacti persist until nightfall, which signals the beginning of the main event.

Ayahuasca is prepared and served for a twilight ceremony that ensues throughout the night and on into the first early rays of dawn.

A final day of reflection and group-based creative exercises sends the newly awakened individuals on their way, back to lives that will likely never feel quite the same again.

It’s clearly not a journey for the faint of heart, and not an experience that most will undergo during their lifetime. A rigorous application process seeds out the thrill-seekers and ill-intentioned. Even several written essays and an extensive phone interview won’t guarantee a spot in the group; all desires must align with the call to self-improvement that inspired the very roots of the retreat.

Still, Guzman remains inspired by the growing interest in this ancient medicine. When he helped spearhead his first retreat in Peru back in 2014, curiosity prodded him to find out just how often North Americans searched for the word “ayahuasca” online. Forty-thousand queries a month seemed like a massive discovery then, but in nearly a year the results have grown to 400 percent that rate–a staggering 160,000.

Shamanism is hardly a bedfellow of American culture, but collective attitudes towards the longstanding taboo might be on the cusp of change. In the past two weeks alone, Ayahuasca Retreats received more than 500 eligible applicants.

Guzman hopes to open 30 more of these centers by 2032; two a year for 15 years, with each one located outside of a major city. The plan might sound like a tall order for most, but for a man who believes that anything is possible, it’s only the beginning.

“This is so much bigger than us,” he says, his voice unbridled with joy.

“This is not me creating this, it’s not the co-founders… this is really the spirit that’s wanting this for the world. And we’re at a point in time, in our history, where we’re ready.”

Feature image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.