HOW I CAME to WORK WITH CACAO
Working with cacao as a plant medicine really brings together several different strands which have called me for years. Since childhood, I was profoundly impacted by messages & realisations I received through dreams - as an adult, I often wished I could find ways to tap into this more intuitive, higher level of awareness more consciously. Although Yogic teachings regard dreams as illusory, I have often experienced them as powerful sources of wisdom, creativity, insight and even prophetic/psychic in ways which went beyond coincidence.
I've also had an affinity for nature since childhood (who hasn't?), and grew up with a deepening sense of reverence for non-human living beings: I've always had quite animist/Pagan leanings, spiritually, finding sacredness in the natural world. As an adult I became interested in indigenous cultures which retained this basic respect for life and nature, something largely lost in western industrial rationalist capitalist cultures... Such cultures often seem to place greater value on the potential of dreams to reveal truths and insights, too.
As a Philosophy graduate (western philosophy), for many years I considered myself adamantly atheist - but as my Yoga path deepened in my 30s and early 40s, I began to recognise that there was in fact a deep longing to connect to spirit in some form - and for me, it was accounts of people communing with sacred plants in the Americas, and hearing the voice of the rainforest herself, which really appealed to me. I longed to experience that level of deep connection to the sacred in nature, and all the accounts I heard and read of Amazonian plant medicine ceremonies began to call me. And the Americas have always called me: specifically, the state of New Mexico (where I lived for a summer in 1998) and the country of Mexico (I visited the north in my pre-cacao days!), and the Mesoamerican lands which, I eventually learned, are cacao's sacred homelands..
I first heard about cacao being used as a plant medicine in 2014, in a hill tribe village in northern Thailand, whilst taking a Thai massage training. I was discussing my interest in Amazonian entheogenic plant ceremonies but also my wariness of subjecting myself to something potentially very destabilising & tough to integrate afterwards. (I still have not communed with any of those stronger entheogens. Mine has been a gentle path of Yoga, and later meditation, and I felt perhaps I should trust that this gentler path was the one to stay on.) Cacao was recommended as something I might like to try instead: a safe, gentle heart-opening plant medicine.
A few more years, a powerful and liberating heart-opening experience in a yoga class on Maui, and a growing urge to try communing with cacao finally led me to London in 2017 for my first ceremony. The heart-opening medicine combined with a deep inner journey was beautiful and reminded me strongly of the blissful heart-opening feeling I'd first experienced on Maui. I began to experiment with yoga workshops involving cacao (and making and drinking more and more of my own chocolate...), getting a feel for whether cacao & I could work together more...
We could; in spring 2018 I travelled to Ibiza for a intense, immersive cacaoista apprenticeship training with Rebekah, the plant medicine practitioner whose ceremony in London I'd attended. I appreciated her traditional plant medicine ceremony approach (as opposed to the recreational, more eclectic/new age approaches which have become very popular with westerners) and its potential for deep inner work and personal healing.
After that initiation, my cacao path continued independently for a few years, guided by an ever-deepening relationship with the medicine each day in daily practices, independent study of the history and indigenous roots of cacao, and through holding many ceremonies over the years. The medicine and my ever-evolving personal practice became my teachers.
My cacaoista apprenticeship training in 2018 was rooted in Amazonian plant medicine ceremonial traditions; since then I've gravitated towards exploring the Mayan roots of cacao as a sacred beverage.
In 2021 I began studying Mayan traditional teachings more broadly, through the Mayan Wisdom Academy, and in early 2022 I embarked upon the Mayan Wisdom Project's cacao training programme. This course is really what I had been longing to connect with for years; entirely run and taught by indigenous Mayan teachers (in Guatemala). This course was profound, authentic, taught by wonderful, humble, deeply knowledgeable and generous teachers from four different Mayan nations, covering everything from the history of cacao, farming and processing, sacred & ritual practices, invocations, materials, music, and so much more...I am deeply grateful to my teachers Kajib Tzik'in Chuj (Jessica), W'ukub K'at Saq'ik (Jerico) and Yasmira Chen Coc of the Chinimital del Ka'kaw collective, to Tata Mario, Tata Juan and Tata Miguel, to Cecilia Mendoza Chiyal, founder of Ruk'u'x Ulew women's collective of artisanal cacao producers, and to Solveig Barrios, founder and guide of the Mayan Wisdom Project, for the priceless opportunity to listen to and learn from this wonderful group of indigenous Mayan teachers.