Episode 44: Grandfather Peyote, Part 2 – with guests Alicia Galbraith & BreAnna Larson

“you are not expected to be born and stay the same forever”

Amy is joined by Alicia Galbraith & BreAnna Larson to conclude their discussion of the plant medicine peyote. This episode is Part Two of Two and covers the process of a peyote ceremony and personal accounts of the grandfather medicine’s power.

Grandfather Peyote, Part 2 – with guests Alicia Galbraith & BreAnna Larson

Our Guests

Alicia Galbraith

Alicia Galbraith is passionate about mental health. With a background in neuroscience, yoga, and meditation, she is currently pursuing a Masters Degree in Social Work with the intent to become a therapist. She believes each client she meets with has the tools for their own healing within themselves. In sessions, she pulls from her varied background, clearing the path for whole-person healing, with the firm belief that each client holds their own medicine.

BreAnna Cox Larson

BreAnna Cox Larson lives in North Salt Lake with her husband and four kids. She is the Chair of the NSL Planning Commission, the Co-founder and Chair of the Davis County Women’s Caucus, and a member of the Stakeholder’s Committee for the Davis School District. She volunteers as a citizen lobbyist with a focus on empowering citizens to get involved in their communities through boards and commissions to impact municipal-level change. She and her family own a small hobby vineyard and enjoy skiing and riding motorcycles together.

The Discussion

Amy Allebest: In our last episode, we began a series on Indigenous American plant medicine. We learned about the cactus peyote, which grows in Mexico and Texas and has been used by Native American peoples in religious ceremonies for over 5,000 years. Our guests talked about the scientific properties of peyote and the historical suppression of these religious ceremonies by Spanish colonists, and the formation of the Native American Church, which is now legally protected in its practice of these traditional ceremonies. Our guests on the episode, Alicia Galbraith and BreAnna Larson, shared their intentions in joining a peyote ceremony. And I’m so happy to welcome them back today to tell us all about it. Welcome back, Alicia and Bre!

BreAnna Larson: Thanks, Amy. So glad to be here again. 

Alicia Galbraith: So happy to be here. Thank you. 

AA: You both did such a beautiful job introducing us to the history of peyote. And you both talked about your intentions and your fears of, as you said, surrendering to this power or energy that Native Americans think of as masculine. And I was so moved, Alicia, by your desire to connect to your own Navajo and Paiute ancestors. I would love for you both to tell us about the actual experience now of sitting with Grandfather Peyote in ceremony. So if you can tell us the details, where did you go? Who was there? And what was the actual experience like?

exterior of a teepee where a peyote ceremony is taking place

BL: Great, I will get us started. One of the things that is part of the pathway to a ceremony in Utah, like Alicia talked about, is a membership with the ONAC Church, and both of us went through all the proper channels to become a member of the church. And they give you a card of membership, which just creates a little bit of safety for everybody participating in the ceremony. And then they also ask that you come and do a breathwork ceremony with them prior to sitting with any plant medicine so they can see how you do in an environment like that. And so we both went and did a breathwork ceremony with the ONAC Church prior to the day of sitting with peyote. On that day, we arrived at the home of the medicine worker. We were welcomed into her home. It’s customary to bring an offering of firewood, sweetgrass, or other things to offer to the fire. And so we came with those offerings and were welcomed into her loving open home. Her husband or partner was there and welcomed us in and just eased us up a little bit. She was in the teepee with the fire keeper preparing a couple of other things. And so he welcomed us in, had a little conversation with us, which did not feel even intentional. It was just the flow of the conversation where he sat and said, like, you got to let come up what’s going to come up and you can’t really course correct this experience. So even if it’s not the direction you wanted this to go, you’re just going to need to go in that direction or you will alter the course of the arc of the journey. And that ended up being really profound and helpful information for us both as we moved into the beginning part of the ceremony and had things come up that both of us were like, I don’t really want to work with this right now or deal with this right now. 

After chatting with him for a little bit, they had prepared the fire within the teepee. That was another thing that I was a little bit nervous about. We did this ceremony in the summer and in Utah, and it was one hundred degrees. And there also is a fire in the teepee that they keep going for the duration of the ceremony, and a big part of the ceremony is the work with the Grandfather energy that is in the fire. So I was also really nervous about that. Alicia, can you remember the phrase he said to us? 

AG: He said, “You’re safe. Let’s leave it at that.” That’s what he said. “You are always safe. Let’s leave it at that.” 

AA: I love it. 

BL: Yes, so he had said to us, “you’re safe,” which was just a little trickster energy and we took that into the teepee with us. So then we approached the teepee and got ready to enter the ceremony. Part of that process was taking our shoes off and then having the medicine woman smudge us with sage, which is a process that you do to set your intentions and to welcome in all of the energies that are going to come in and help you. And also to ask any energies that you don’t want there to leave. And it’s just to give everybody a minute to center yourself, bring your intentions in, let go of chatter. And whether that’s just internal or metaphysical, it helps balance the ceremony. So then after being smudged, they gave us a couple of reminders of some of the protocol in a peyote ceremony, things like always walking clockwise around the fire, that your feet should never be directly towards the fire, you should always have them off to the side, just small little things like that. 

And then we entered the teepee and were invited to sit in one of the gates of the medicine wheel. A peyote ceremony utilizes the medicine wheel as a framework. The medicine wheel is a physical and a conceptual tool that has its origins in the Americas, and it encompasses a way of understanding ourselves in an aim of finding balance within ourselves and also within nature around us. It addresses you in your wholeness and also in your parts, and then merging them into one. In this ceremony, like I said, we were invited to sit in a gate, which is physical, you will sit in the gate that meets a coordinate and also meets a part of yourself or a part of an arc of your story, and then you move around the teepee and sit in these different gates of the medicine wheel. And for just simplicity, the East Gate represents birth and inspiration, the South Gate represents childhood and emotion, the West Gate represents adulthood and incarnation, and the North Gate represents your future self and your wisdom and knowing. And so you are also doing a physical move around in the teepee and then asking yourself in those different places of your life, what is coming up for you in the ceremony. 

sage being burned for smudging

AG: And one of the things that I love about the medicine wheel is that different from astrology, the way that we talk about it often where you are born a Sagittarius or you’re born an Aries and then you stay that sign for the rest of your life, in the medicine wheel, you enter at some part when you’re born in a certain gate under a certain moon, but then throughout the rest of your life you are expected to, and it would be problematic if you did not move around the medicine wheel. You are always evolving and shifting and changing and that is also built into the ceremony, that life is flow, life is adaptation. And that you will, even at any point in your life, be in possibly multiple parts of the wheel at once, professionally, romantically, personally, emotionally, etc. And so you may interact with the wheel differently depending on your own unique grouping of strengths and experiences, but you are not expected to be born and stay the same forever. And that’s a big part of the wheel, and it’s built into the ceremony that your intentions shift with each gate, and that you are not expected to stay in the same gate the whole time. That would be counterintuitive to the process of evolution and transformation. 

BL: So when we entered the teepee, we were invited to sit in a gate of our choosing, and we both decided to sit in the gates in which we were born, which is the east for Alicia and the west for me. And that also ended up putting us across from each other in the wheel, which gave a little bit of balance to the ceremony. And then after that, we spoke with the guide about what our intentions were, what we were wanting to have happen. And then she helped us create a very distilled intention to ask the peyote. And then she served the peyote to us, and we spoke directly to the peyote, and then ingested the peyote. And at this point, the ceremony takes a different turn than other plant medicine ceremonies, which are intended to be a little bit more internal. And in those ceremonies, you are not advised to be engaging verbally with your guide, you are advised to wear an eye shade and to be having kind of an internal storyline or learning or knowing kind of present to yourself. I was not totally aware of that before we entered this experience. And so after taking that, I was ready to hide myself and deal with whatever I was going to deal with. And then after taking the medicine, she gave us some time to watch the fire, they played drums, there was singing, there was music, and then she stopped all of that and then point blank asked us, “What is coming up for you?” And that was wildly uncomfortable. 

AA: Ohh. 

AG: So, it’s funny. We were both prepared for physical vomiting or “getting well” and instead what we got was something much more uncomfortable for both of us, which was emotional vomit. 

AA: Oh no!

AG: Which is also the precursor to “getting well.” And luckily, we both felt some resistance but we had enough experience with the things we had done to prepare, and her partner had prepared us to allow whatever came up to come up. And so we both tried to acknowledge those things that were coming up. And it’s interesting because you take two women who struggled to take up space or who have been taught their whole life to take up only a certain amount of space, who are trying to always be on top of everything, hyperfunctioning, hyper-performing. And being seen and witnessed in such a deep and profound way for those two women is going to be the most terrifying experience possible. Way more than being physically seen vomiting. But it’s also going to be the medicine and path for that healing to take place. And so we were both ready for a certain type of discomfort, but we got a totally different type of discomfort. 

BL: It was so much worse! Haha. 

AA: Even though you’re really good friends? I mean, I know you know each other so well.

BL: I was just going to say. The part that Alicia is leaving out is that if you take a woman like that and have her exposed like that to a stranger, fine. But take a woman like that and have her be exposed to her most intimate friendship and to be seen that unveiled and behind all of the like “this is how I present myself to you because it makes me feel like you’ll accept me and love me more,” it will make you want to Uber yourself right out of that teepee and just say “I am not doing this!” And so I think for both of us, the first gate was like, not only is this awful and not what I want to do, I don’t really want to do this in front of you. Because, one, I don’t want you to have to carry this weight, because you know my stories, you know my childhood, you know these things, and I don’t want to put that weight onto you right now and have you carry this with me. But that was absolutely the ask. To lay this bare, carry it together with the women in this teepee, and then we’re going to move on. 

And I think that’s what we were talking about, that peyote plays a little bit of hide and seek. It does not bulldoze you. And at that point, if you wanted to armor up and role play and be like, “I am not going to talk about these really vulnerable things, but I can put on a good enough story,” you could create a very different experience that you were micromanaging. But I think both Alicia and I decided in that first gate or two, like, I am just doing this because it’s what’s being asked and I honestly kind of can’t stop it at this point. What’s coming up is coming up and it’s coming out my mouth. And so we’re just going to go in this direction. So yes, we are very close friends. And in some ways, knowing all that deep history made that vulnerability even more exposing.

You are always evolving and shifting and changing and that is also built into the ceremony, that life is flow

AG: I totally agree with everything Bre just said. And I would also say that it’s not the emotions like, I feel sad, I feel happy, or like, this experience… It was like the deep parts of yourself that are like a second skin that you don’t even know is there. You’re not even sure you are ready to look at it. And that is bubbling up in real time in front of this friend who knows you so well. And so it was like peeling back a mask and seeing the most broken parts, the most tender parts that you don’t even know you’re protecting from the world. And so I think because we have said that to a couple of people and they’re like, “oh, I would totally be emotional in front of my friend. And I’m like, well, it’s a little bit different than your typical emotions. But that was our discomfort. So we didn’t get the physical somatic discomfort that we were prepared for, we got deep psyche discomfort that is what had to happen first for our healing. 

AA: If you are willing to share anything about what it actually felt like, was it visions? Was it just emotions, or were you reliving things from your past? Would you be willing to share anything about what it actually felt like? 

a row of peyote ‘buttons’ set out for drying

BL: In the first gate, the medicine woman asked us what our own intentions were, what we had brought in that we were able to curate outside of plant medicine. And then she worked with that a little bit now that we had peyote working in our system. And then she asked what we were wanting to do in that gate. And for me, one of the things that I wanted to do was heal my anxiety. And then the experience for me, peyote was not extremely visual, but it was like having a knowing come to me. I would explain it like my mind and my spirit was connected directly to my linguistics and that I wasn’t able to run any of the things that I was saying through my own processing systems or my own storylines. And that is the part that felt the most vulnerable, is that my soul or spirit or mind was understanding things in a very clear way and then it was coming straight out of my mouth in a way that I could not stop. And that was the part that felt very vulnerable. Not that I knew what things were coming out of my mouth, so it didn’t feel like “oh I’m going to say something about myself that’s going to incriminate me” or anything like that. There was no finding something out about myself that I didn’t know about myself. It was looking at them with such honesty and vulnerability. 

And for me, the anxiety working with the anxiety was the realization that my anxiety started as a child who was born into a family that was in a very tumultuous situation, and that I always felt invisible and unwanted. And that even my birth, the surroundings of my birth was, like I said, in the introduction, I’m the fourth child of five. And I was the third daughter in a row. And my parents at the time were starting to separate, it was very, very tumultuous, and so I realized that I was probably not a wanted pregnancy. And if anything, not a wanted third daughter by my LDS father. And so I kind of saw that for exactly what it is and I had to walk through that in order for me to access that part of myself. And at this part in my ceremony, the medicine woman actually offered me a soul retrieval of that part of who I was, who at that time I had exiled. And she said that she could see that happening because I was able to unveil that understanding that my anxiety stems from this place that I was always invisible and loved, deeply loved, but not wanted or a celebrated pregnancy in a more traditional way. And then she offered and asked, “Would you like to do a soul retrieval to that part of your childhood and bring her back in with you?” And so we went through the process of that. But the vulnerability of even me being able to see that so clearly and take myself out of it and see my mother and my father and my family dynamics, we were very poor and the idea that I was probably not exactly what my family wanted to have at that time. 

And that makes so much sense in the development of my DNA and some of this anxiety that I have. And some of these things that I always joke about like that I have a cold, dead heart, a black heart. And just this idea that there was no anxiousness and excitement around my arrival to this earth. And I say that in the most loving way to my mother, who was also going through so much stuff. So I don’t say that like “how could she have done that to me?” It feels like I was also part of the story that was being done to her, that she was taking on another child. So the vulnerability was really myself being able to see that so clearly for the first time and then speaking it out loud for the first time in such a vulnerable way. And the guide had told us that peyote is not necessarily a consciousness alterer, it’s just a consciousness clarifier and that will help you see things really clearly. And it definitely had that effect on me. 

And so then as I was walking through this path of seeing that, I was narrating it as it was happening. And so I could not get a couple of steps ahead of that to manage myself in an appropriate way. And so that brought with it a lot of emotions and I would get around a corner and be like, “oh, I’m seeing my pregnancy and seeing this.” And so that is where the vulnerability came from. I did not know what was coming next and in real time I was sharing that out loud, both with the guides and with somebody that I love dearly and I’m very close to. And I know that that became a weighty conversation for Alicia to have too, because she does know me. And so there was a little bit of interplay of like, “Thank you for being here, and I’m sorry this could be heavy.” So that was part of the discomfort of that. 

dried peyote ‘buttons’ ready for consumption

AG: And I would add that it was actually extremely beautiful to witness, and I’m so grateful that Bre was courageous enough to walk through that. Because there’s a saying that people will say in plant medicine, like “everyone wants to do ayahuasca, but nobody wants to do the dishes.” And in this instance, everybody wants to do peyote, but nobody wants to do the dishes. And we both got to that first gate and realized we had some dishes to do. We had some dishes to clean. And if either of us had bypassed that, I think that we would not have gotten the experience that unfolded for both of us by the third gate. And when I had asked the medicine woman for some clarification about some things with peyote, she said, similar to what Bre said, that peyote is not so much of a psychedelic experience, although it is that. It’s more like putting on truth glasses that will let you see everything as it is. 

And you don’t realize when you live in a world of your own making, like the world that we see is our perception, we see the world as a projection of ourselves, that when you put on truth glasses and you see things as they are, it can take an adjustment period. It can be very scary and unnerving. And being able to face that with that kind of courage is, I think, very important. For myself in the first couple of gates, it was not so much visual, although there was a little bit of visualness. They have you looking into the fire for most of it. You can close your eyes a little bit and go internal, but the fire is a transformer. And so there’s this connection of the fire transforming outwardly, as well as the fire of the medicine transforming inside of you. And so it was more of an inner knowing that was arising with extreme profoundness and strength. 

And one thing that it did for me was it very quickly rewired the way that I define power and view power. I think of power as something that overpowers and is pushing things and maneuvering things, but this power felt very consensual. It felt like there was a lot of consent. So I was having emotions come up that were related to decisions I had made many years ago as an immature girl trying to make my way in the world and thinking I knew what the best decisions were and realizing that some of those decisions had gotten me quite stuck, or maybe emotionally high centered, and I didn’t know how to get out of those even now. And as I was working through those things, the medicine was letting me know that I didn’t have to do anything if I didn’t want to. I could just sit there and when the medicine woman asked me what’s coming up, I could say, “oh, nothing,” or “I don’t really want to talk about it.” But instead, with my consent, the medicine was giving me an opportunity to release those things and as I released them toward the fire, have them transformed in the way that I was hoping.

And I also had some energetic things come up. The person who talked to us while we were outside the teepee, one of the things he said was that you don’t always have to know what’s coming up. Let go of trying to analyze everything because that’s counterintuitive to the medicine. You have to trust the medicine. And so I had a couple of sort of deep, dark, energetic things that released from me that I felt, you know, if you’re familiar with chakras, it’s more in like my solar plexus area, in my abdomen. So it was a very energetic release as well as a verbal release of who knows what. But whatever it was, it was doing the dishes and it was releasing me and clearing the way to move forward to have the experience I needed to have later. And at this point, my resistance was coming up often as frustration because I had come from my ancestors, and instead I was having all this emotional, personal stuff come up. And so I was so grateful for those words that he said to let whatever came up and trust the medicine. And so I think the medicine, as we progressed, showed me how those things were related to intergenerational cycles and trauma that I was carrying that came from those ancestors and that I needed to release those in order to be able to move forward.

like putting on truth glasses that will let you see everything as it is

AA: Okay, so then what happened as you progressed, I mean, you did the dishes first and then it sounds like it was a preparation for what would happen in those later gates. What happened next?

BL: Then we moved to the next gate and this gate for me would be the North, so wisdom and future and an internal knowing. And at that point the guide, the medicine woman, uses what came up for you in the previous gate and kind of helps you curate a new intention because that gate is going to be different and do different work with you. And so she doses you another amount of peyote, you talk with her about what you would like to have happen, and then you take the medicine and then the same cycle. They let you sit with that for a certain amount of time, music is played, drums are played, they sing, you watch the fire, and let your internal world start churning and noodling on what is coming up for you. And in this gate for me, I realized that I had some pretty strong blockages in the ideas of who I thought I was. And that very early on I had created these ideas of “I’m just this kind of person.” Both in my childhood and in my young adult life, in my marriage, as a mother, as a professional woman, particularly as a friend being that “I’m just this kind of person.” And then in that gate it became really clear to me and to the medicine woman that I was running everything through a program. And she was saying, “Okay, but you’re still speaking through your program” and “you’re still speaking through your programming,” and I could see it. I could totally see that I have transcended so many of these things and changed the course directory of my life, but I still function as if this is all the truth of who I am. 

And then at that point, she offered a deprogramming ceremony to me to bring down the structures of how I was seeing myself and seeing my life arc, and all of the work that I had done previously to course-correct myself and my family and my lineage. And so in that gate, it was kind of a playful toggle with the peyote, but also kind of a stern parental energy that said to me, “Are you just going to do this forever? You’re just going to do this story forever. And this is no longer your story, but you still are a victim to it because you process everything through this program and you withhold joy and have foreboding joy because you’ve always thought you were this kind of person…” And the messaging was very much sitting with me patiently saying, “Are you just going to do this forever?” And then at that point, I realized, I don’t want to do this forever but I don’t know how to get out of these tracks that I have laid down that are just subconscious at this point. And then she offered the deprogramming ceremony. We went through that. She spoke the words, which were profound and beautiful. And then I could cognitively feel certain things in my mind releasing in a way that makes no sense. I can’t make any sense of it. And then I just sat there and felt joy bubble up in this idea that I can just change my story. And it’s that simple. And it also is absolutely not that simple. 

a ritual bowl designed for peyote ceremonies, circa 1980’s

So in the same way that peyote is a little bit of a trickster and it’s hard to find until it isn’t, I can change my story. I can change my trajectory. I can go back and re-narrate my birth and my childhood and my place in the church and my place in the world. And then I can move to joy. But I can’t just move to joy until I already did all of that work. So it was, in a way, an initiation into the valley of joy after a lot of the work that I have been doing to change the course directory of my life and my family’s life and a permission that you can just choose that when it’s time to choose that. And you can’t bypass it, but you can choose that. So then I sat with that concept that a lot of these programs were coming down and very joyfully seeing this new way to view my life, my future, and my past. That is what came up for me in the next gate.

AA: So when you say that you were kind of living your life with all of these layers of programming, not having experienced what you’re talking about, the analog that I think of is like how little children experience the world, like who you really are authentically when you’re little and you don’t have all of the layers of “don’t behave this way, don’t think this way.” I guess, the accumulation of the persona that we take on. Is that kind of what it felt like? Like peyote was asking you to take off the persona, the layers of the programming and just get back to the joy of it, being the real you that you were when you were little? Does that sound at all like what it was? That’s what I maybe could relate to from what you were saying. 

BL: Yes, and the way that that laid out is I had previously in a meditation cycle had a task that was to try and see what my role was in a larger set of people that I am close to. And I was able to see each one of these people whom I love dearly and see that they are this part of myself and I’m this part of them. And then when I got to myself, I was missing. And I was like, “This is so bizarre.” And this was months ago. I was like, “Why would I be missing when I can so clearly see all these beautiful and meaningful and stabilizing attributes that are part of me, that are also in these friends that I’m with?” And so part of it for me was the anxiety healing, which was that any time that you live in the future, you are missing the now, because you’re not here to be present. And that is anxiety, constantly trying to be ten steps ahead, constantly trying to think through what will happen, and then you aren’t here. Or if you’re living in the past, that’s depression. 

And so that understanding was that you are now safe. Your family is safe. You’ve worked really hard to stabilize everything so that you could be in a safe environment financially and physically and all of these things. And now you’ve done that. And that was the messaging of, “Are you just going to do that forever? When is it going to be enough?” Because it’s enough now that you could come back to yourself and be here for it. But instead, you’re constantly trying to outsmart it or renegotiate what you should have done better. And so the process for me was realizing that the reason I couldn’t see myself in that was trying to relearn how to just be here and that I don’t have to be anything other than present. And that is not the way that I had been living my life, both because that’s not how anxiety works, it’s a protection mechanism, and also because in the building years of your life, you’re constantly needing to have a more future-oriented arc. Particularly in the younger years of parenting, where you’re trying to foresee the needs of all these young people and you can almost never be fully present. Because that is a marker of a successful mother, is pre-thinking everybody’s needs except my own. So I had lost myself in that process. And then as that deprogramming came down, it was an invitation to just be here now, and that can be the new programming that you function with as a woman, and as a mom, and as a leader, and all of these other things, and that felt incredibly freeing.

AG: And Bre, this might be an incorrect assumption, but do you feel like the program was such a subtle filter that even when you came out of that West Gate and you were going into the North Gate, it was like there were still tiny bits of that filter left that you were still trying to run it through? Whether that’s still trying to win the game as the best mom or still trying to outsmart the game or view your life even as lesser than because you didn’t stay in the church or whatever, even though you had all this joy? That it’s a lesser joy or that it was such a subtle filter that that was the program you were still running through?

BL: Yes, definitely. And I think that goes to what you were saying about a second skin, that that was kind of this virus that my body was using that I didn’t even know was in there. And that’s when she kept saying to me, “You’re still running that through the program.” And I was a little foggy at that point, like the peyote was coming on and I was like, “I see what you’re saying.” And then I would say something and then she would stop me and say, “You’re still running that through a program.” But I had just been subconsciously using that as my mechanism of connection to other people and myself for so long that it took a minute for me to be like, “I understand what you’re saying, but I can’t get past this. This is who I am.” And then she was like, “No, that is the program. Who you are is behind that.” And then I finally got there, but it definitely took a little bit of pushing from her in a very gentle invitation kind of way. And also feeling like the peyote was sitting there saying, “You’re just going to do this forever? You’re just going to spin in this cycle forever? You did the work to get here, and then you are just going to do it forever?” And that was really profound to be like, “No, I’m actually not. I’m going to shoot out of this orbit,” and be like, “I did the work I needed to do there, and now I’m coming into a brand new solar system.” So, it definitely took me a minute to get out of that skin because it was so deeply embedded. 

an illustration of the Medicine Wheel depicting the Four Gates and their associations

After that I moved into the third gate of the medicine wheel, which was the East Gate for me, which is rebirth and taking on new life. At this point in the arc of a peyote ceremony, this is where the medicine comes into you more deeply and more profoundly. Also, based on what the invitations in the first two gates that you accepted, at this point you could also still choose not to go to the places that peyote would want to take you in this gate. And that might not even be available to you if up until that point you had resisted a lot. So in the third gate, she asked us if we wanted to work with a little bit more peyote. She gave us a little bit more peyote in the form of a paste and then worked with us about any intention that we had for that gate. 

And part of the intention that Alicia talked about going into this was understanding what in this realm is seen as your own medicine, which would also track similar to what are your talents or your gifts. You know, what is your personal gift to the world, more or less. And that is referred to as your own personal medicine. And we had both come in wanting to understand that a little bit more. It’s a very elusive concept that’s a little bit confusing to us because we didn’t come into this lineage our whole life, so it’s new vernacular. And then in this gate I was sitting there working with this realization of my anxiety being part of not being seen fully in my childhood and then the experience where I couldn’t see myself, the role that I played with my friends, then having that kind of unveil that that was presence. That the idea of being present does make you a little bit invisible because you’re neither here nor there. You’re just right in this minute. 

And then as I was sitting in this gate this whole arc started to map together. The part of my childhood that I had seen as the most painful, the most shameful, the most embarrassing, that I was unseen and invisible and that I tried to make myself invisible to just be palatable to people around me. And the arc of all of that pain that I had experienced in the first gate of really seeing that transmuted in that moment into power and what I offer to people around me, which is to be extremely present, to try not to worry about what is coming and what the past has been, but to forgive yourself. And that arced all the way back to me ordaining myself, and then when I came into a position of power, rather than taking people’s power for myself, giving it back to them. And constantly telling people, “You keep this for yourself, you keep this for yourself. We can exchange power, but there are no power differentials here. I will never take any of your power.” And then realizing that the security and safety that I offer to those that I work with, both professionally and through officiating weddings, and those in my friendships, that I’m very close to is rooted in what I saw as the wound of my childhood. So the wound of my childhood that also had been the root of my anxiety in that moment kind of did a Beauty and the Beast moment and just transcended into this beauty that you offer comes from the depth of your pain and experience of being unseen. And so from here forward, you offer people being seen in whatever situation they’re in that they don’t have to do anything to be seen. And that is part of your medicine or your talent. 

Or moving forward, if you’re going to change these stories, this is now who you are, somebody who helps people be deeply seen. Where before, I had spent so much of my life being an introvert and trying not to be seen. And so that whole sweeping crescendo of understanding that all of that was rooted in my pain in my childhood, in my anxiety, in my introversion, and then having that absolutely transmute into this alchemist moment of moving forward, all you have to give is love and presence to everyone around you and that is your path to sanctification and redemption, personally. 

And so in that gate, it was a pretty profound experience in that height of the medicine to learn that about myself. And then also in that gate started to come in some masculine work where we were invited at that time to lay down on mats in the teepee and to close our eyes at that point. And up until this point, they had really encouraged us to stay working with the fire, to be looking at the fire, to be talking, to be very, very present. And at this point they say, “Okay, you can lay down.” And then we started doing some breathwork and at that point of the ceremony, I felt like I had a moment with masculine energy. That was a reminder that I am very familiar with stable and safe masculinity. And that emotion and feeling flooded over my body and then made a knowing in my mind that this is what safe masculinity feels like. It’s in you, it’s in your husband, it’s in a lot of places. But that it’s here, but I’ve always been taught to not be able to see that as masculinity. That I was trained that masculinity takes power from people, and power over, and power differentials. 

And so it was a pretty profound shift in the idea of what stable and safe masculinity looks like. And then reconnecting that I absolutely know what that energy feels like. I feel it around me often, I see it in strangers, I am able to tap into that with people that I don’t know very well. It was very empowering to realize that masculine energy is something that is very dear to me, that I feel very safe under the care of that masculine energy. I want to be with it. We’re leading into this. I very much felt like I largely reject masculine energy. And if I didn’t have sons, I would kind of be okay to just be like, “I’m okay to not like masculine energy.” And then that connected to the idea that all of us carry masculine energy. It isn’t as binary as men and women, but the energy of masculinity is needed in the whole arc of our healing and our humanity, and our connection to each other and ourselves. And so that’s when that intention really firmed up and came in for me.

all you have to give is love and presence to everyone around you and that is your path to sanctification

AA: Oh, my heart. Beautiful. Thank you. And Alicia, what were the later gates like for you? 

AG: As I shifted to the South Gate, I was feeling a little bit of disappointment in myself that I had come here for my ancestors. I had this whole shrine to them, almost, that I was moving with me from gate to gate. And I had done all this research and come for them, and then instead, all that was coming up was my own inner work that I needed to do. And so I had a few moments of disappointment and even a little bit of anger started to bubble up that I guess this is all this is going to be. And I’m just going to go through it and go through the motions, and I’m sorry I failed everybody, you know? And then I had this moment of realizing that was still my getting well, that was still my emotional clearing that I needed to do. And that was my resistance to the medicine that it had been very kind of surreptitious. It sort of crept in on me and was coming in a form that I wasn’t recognizing, but that I was still resisting the medicine a little bit. And that is something that in my life, I feel like I try and work really hard to surrender to things. I do a lot of cold plunging, a lot of fasting, but this was humbling me in a way that nothing else quite had, and that I needed to recognize it for what it was. And once I saw that, I realized that I needed to surrender in a new way and learn to be flexible and adaptable in a new way. Which is such a beautiful merging of the teachings of the medicine wheel, which is that life is adaptation, life is flow and flexibility. 

So I just kept leaning into the awful emotions that were coming up. And I think some of my masculine work was coming up in that form, because I was having things come up from my marriage that I didn’t even know I was aware of. Not my husband’s fault or to say that I’m upset with him, but because of the dynamic of our marriage under a patriarchal upbringing and culture and overarching force in my life, not even in our marriage. And at one point the firekeeper who was working with me said, “The stuff that you’re bringing up doesn’t really have much to do with your marriage. It actually has to do with you, and this would be the same no matter where you went or what you did because of the waters of patriarchy that we have been raised in. So let’s heal you so that you can step into your life fully and completely in this empowered state.” And I remember being so overwhelmed with how seen I felt by her. 

a spiritual guide attending to participants in a peyote ceremony

And so they offered me some peyote and a new intention to be able to find the part of myself that I had completely disengaged from, that had no voice because I was silencing her due to life experiences and the way that many of us have been raised that we have to separate ourselves from our most authentic self. And as we shifted to the third gate, which was the West Gate for me, I started to see very clearly that that work absolutely had to be done in order for me to move forward and be able to see my ancestors and the work that needed to be done there. Because I was trying to come to them to heal this intergenerational wounding without even being connected to my core self. And at that point I really had surrendered to the fact that that may be what the entire experience was going to be. That I had worked for a year looking forward to this ceremony and that it might just be a bunch of emotions coming up for me. 

But when I got to the third gate, the medicine woman asked me if I’d like to work on my ancestors at that point, and I told her absolutely. And so we walked through the story of my ancestors in great detail. She took such wonderful mental and emotional care to make sure that the story was just right, that the words of the ancestral line clearing that she performed were perfectly accurate and that nothing was left out. And so I was able to say those words with the peyote. And at that point in time I was starting to feel quite nauseous. The medicine had come on quite strong at that point. That was my fourth serving, I think. And I told the medicine woman, “I think that I might get well into the fire if I take any more.” And she smiled and just handed me another serving. And with this knowing that that’s what happens, this is how we get well, I had this thought that I will swallow this bitter pill in order to heal because the former gates had really shown me that’s the path you have to walk for healing. And if the road to heaven is paved with hell, was hell ever actually hell or were they both the same? 

So I’m starting to see these things in wholes instead of dualities, that things were merging together and flowing together. And so, as Bre mentioned, they invited us to lie down and do, it’s similar to what’s called holotropic breathwork or Wim Hof Breathing, where you’re switching the balance of carbon dioxide and oxygen in your body. And pretty quickly as I laid down, I had very strong visuals come in. And at this point I was expecting to feel rather ill, but instead of ill, I felt so expansive and so cleansed. It felt like we had gone through these gates with so much work and willingness to do the work, and so much consent from the medicine, and then the medicine was saying, “Okay, now you get to see the power that is behind this.” And that power doesn’t have to be overpowering. You consented to this and it can feel like a really strong, gentle, warm rain that has cleansed everything and that doesn’t feel like you wish it were gone or that you can’t be your full, authentic, embodied self in its presence.

And so I had a different ancestor from the ancestor I had gone with in mind. It was her mother, who we have had a harder time finding information about, who became my guide for that gate. And that’s very common in plant medicine, to have a guide come in and it can be anything from an inner knowing, to an animal like a pet, or a human that you may or may not know. And she became my guide for the rest of that experience. And it was extremely powerful. She taught me about the interdimensionality of love, that it reaches beyond all time. I’m sorry, I’m getting emotional. It reaches beyond all time. And that we are held in so much nurturing and love and in an unbroken chain of love since the dawn of humanity. It’s very hard to see it at times because of our experiences in humanity and the pain and the difficulties that we experience, but that it is a force and a power. And she taught me about adaptability and being able to flow and hold seeming opposites together. That there can be pain and joy, and that the way to integrate those is to find a dance between them. And so she taught me to take my pain and my joy and dance in the present moment, because all we have is the present moment. The past and the future are both illusions. And so we have this one spark at this moment, and that is where the dance is. That’s where the life is. And that as long as I am resisting life, I am not fully embodying actual life and consciousness and existence. And the only way to do that is to be flexible and adaptive and flow and learn to dance with it. Learn to dance through the pain and the sorrow and the happiness and the beauty and all of it. And it was an extremely powerful experience. I felt like my heart was like in the Grinch movie where it just expands and explodes out of the box. My heart felt so overjoyed with gratitude and awareness for the undercurrents of beauty and nurturing and love that are all around us all the time for our taking.

a peyote-inspired yarn painting by Huichol artist José Benitez Sanchez

AA: It strikes me as you’re talking that this guide who came to you that was talking about holding all of it was a woman who lost her daughter. It’s interesting that it wasn’t the ancestor that you were focusing on, but the mother of that daughter who had that horrible thing happen to her. And then that daughter then went into white society, I guess, and the Paiute line of this ancestor, I guess she was kind of the last one in that line. 

AG: Absolutely, and that’s really insightful of you to mention that because that was actually part of what I saw. I was going back and forth with her saying, “But you lost your daughter.” And I realized at that time that she didn’t actually know what ever happened to her daughter. And I watched her energetically gather up her daughter in her arms, and she looked at me and told me, “A mother’s love doesn’t end. So we are all still connected.” And she was teaching me about love, not as an emotion and not love as an idea, but love as a force and love as something that is part of a human birthright that does not end with death. And I’m not talking necessarily about knowing about an afterlife or something like that, I’m talking about human connection in our DNA. You can call it epigenetics, you can call it DNA, but the things that we call material are all manifestations of love. And we are bound and held in love in so many areas of our life, regardless of the circumstances.

And one intention that I had come to the medicine with was to understand my own personal, unique, energetic stamp, or my energetic fingerprint, you could say. Sometimes we call that our medicine. To understand what my medicine was. And I had this really poignant moment where she approached me and she asked if she could have my energetic heart to understand so that she could teach me some more things. And I gratefully handed her my energetic heart. And she showed me that this dance with life that my ancestors had been teaching me is more than your arms and your legs, but that it’s with your heart. It’s with your soul. That there is this element of dancing with life. And as she handed me back my heart, in doing so, she told me in very clear terms that she was giving me a new name. And this new name was very meaningful and very powerful and had to do with this idea of dancing. And after this experience, I mentioned to the medicine woman that my ancestor had given me a new name. And I didn’t really know that that was something that people seek after or that happens sometimes in this medicine, but she let me know that that is something that will occasionally happen or that sometimes people will approach her and ask for a new name. And so she said, “This is as legitimate as anything else I’ve ever performed. So why don’t we do a naming ceremony?” And so we did a naming ceremony that was very beautiful and meaningful. And it made the name all the more powerful in my life. And I will continue trying to work to earn the magnitude of this name that was given to me. 

And then I did have a moment at this point, and it’s so interesting that Bre and I had some similarities to our experience because we were on opposite sides of the teepee, totally silent. But I had this moment where I had sort of a conversation with the medicine. It wasn’t really in verbal language, it was more of a knowing. I said, “Wait a minute. Why has my entire experience been a matriarch figure when you’re supposed to be masculine energy?” And I felt like the energy of the medicine sort of winked at me and said, “You’re so silly. The way that you view masculine energy is so imbalanced. You don’t even know it when you see it.” And he said, “I’m not threatened. I’m just part of the family. So I’m not threatened by your great-grandmother coming to you and teaching you lessons that you needed to learn. We’re all part of the family and I’m part of you. And you are part masculine and feminine, and the overlap in between, and there doesn’t need to be this threatened state between us. So I’m happy that you could learn the lessons you needed to learn through her.” 

And that felt like a lesson that I continue to unpack as I start to realize areas that I used to define as masculine that are not actually balanced masculine energy, it’s toxic masculine energy. So why am I still calling that masculine? And seeing masculine energy in gentleness, and patience, and consent, and unassumingness. That it can be all of those things instead of thinking that it’s domineering or overpowering, and that that’s the definition of masculinity, and that anything adjacent to it is like an altered masculine or a fringe masculine. Actually, what I have been defining as masculine is what is imbalanced. 

we are bound and held in love in so many areas of our life, regardless of the circumstances

AA: Well that brings us to the end of the episode. I’ve learned so much from you both and I so appreciate all of these beautiful and powerful experiences. Is there anything that you’d like to say as a takeaway or last thoughts on the topic?

BL: I will go ahead and start with that. Some of the takeaways for me were that our true power rests within ourselves. And in a healed society and religion, everyone gets to keep their power and we exchange power consensually, both masculine and feminine. And that also we can change our stories, we can heal our past, we can reclaim all parts of self. And the other side of that is the most glorious grotto of joy and wonder and awe. That is the other side of coming into some of these very dark nights of the soul and these places that we are unfamiliar with and don’t know where we’re going. And then as far as how plant medicine helps us break down the patriarchy, I feel like plant medicine empowers people to be their own visionary and invites you to meet yourself and any version of God that you believe in. And that discovery of who you are at the most raw and divine level is your own sanctification that cleanses you from your old stories and consecrates you for a special purpose, which is yours and yours alone. And in plant medicine, it will give you the keys towards that. And that journey may be very long, and it may be shorter for some people, but as you follow that path and continue to shed these layers of yourself, that you will initiate your own rebirth and resurrection over and over again in this world here that we’re in right now. And that you very much are your own matriarch or your own patriarch, and that you are the access and conduit to your own divine energy and divine connection to whatever source power you believe in.

AG: That is so beautiful. I love it when Bre speaks. I think some of my major takeaways are that life is adaptation, and that the medicine wheel is not so much of a dogma of how to live your life but more of a way to explain our lived experience. And that as we surrender to what flows in, and then release it, that is the crux of life. Rather than resisting what is, and allowing emotional dams, and second skins, and all these things to come in. That when we live at that razor edge of flow with life, that is where the love and the beauty and the joy exist in absolute tandem with the pain and the brokenness and the mundane. That life and death are not opposites, but that they are a dance together. That really, life is death dancing. And that as we learn to dance metaphorically with our own experiences, we are able to find a greater flow in our lives. 

The other thing that I am taking with me is that our stories are not defined by how they ended. And our stories aren’t even defined by what happened to us. Our stories come from within. It’s who we are at our core that creates our own story. And so even when there is extreme trauma and sadness in our life, it’s a story worth telling. And that there was still a thread of beauty and love through every story of all time. And that our ancestors are connected to us in a chain. And you can call that epigenetics, you can call that spirit, you can call that DNA, or intergenerational cycles. But learning to trust your own body’s wisdom and knowing that you contain multitudes, that you come from multitudes, is crucial to being able to reclaim your own power. And probably the very first step to healing is being in touch with your own inner authentic self that is your body and mind coming together. Body, mind, heart. 

AA: BreAnna Larson and Alicia Galbraith, thank you so much for being with us. Again, I learned so much from you and I respect and admire all of your work. I’m so grateful that you joined us today. Thanks so much. 

BL: Thanks, Amy. Thanks for having us. 

AG: Thank you, Amy. It’s been an honor.

It isn’t as binary as men and women,

but the energy of masculinity is needed in the whole arc of our healing

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