One of the questions I am asked almost on a daily basis is “Are psychedelic retreats safe during COVID-19?” This is a tender subject that has nuanced and individualized answers. What’s right for us or someone else may not be what’s right for you. Today I want to speak to where our hearts are as healing service providers, medicine family, and retreat facilitators, and share some insights and things to think about if you are considering attending a psychedelic retreat or healing ceremony in a group setting, now or in the near future.
The Ongoing, Exhausting Reality of COVID-19
In the US, we’ve been in some form of lockdown or containment mode since March 2020. For most of us, that’s been nine months of drastically altering our behavior, habits, and lifestyles. We have banded together while apart, and are wearing masks, staying home if we are able, and limiting or avoiding social contact. Everything is cancelled including non-essential travel, gatherings, celebrations, and big life events. There are no concerts, graduations, weddings, school plays, or soccer games. We are generally trying to minimize our contact with others as much as possible and have been for months. Yet we are still seeing a continuous wave of infections and widespread transmission of the virus.
Meanwhile, many, many people are not able to follow the lockdown protocol, because they don’t have the economic ability or privilege of staying home from work, they can’t work from home, or are considered essential workers who are keeping the rest of us fed, cared for in hospitals, and are keeping things moving all across the globe. In most developing countries and for most working people, survival depends on going out and doing the necessary work to feed yourself and your family, along with the rest of the people just like you doing the same thing. Expecting that the entire world will come to a halt and everyone will just stay at home without a Universal Basic Income for EVERYONE is unrealistic at best.
Because of the lack of an organized, competent, expert-led government response to this pandemic, and no safety net for Americans, COVID-19 has been allowed to continue to spread unchecked here for months, despite the efforts of many of us to do our part and stay home. It is the worst it’s ever been with no end in sight.
With no federal enforcement or unified plan to stop the spread, we’re left with choosing how to manage our response on our own. Many people are waiting for a vaccine, but there’s no guarantee that a rushed through vaccine will suddenly eradicate this virus overnight and things will go back to normal. The more likely outcome is that most of us will get infected and the virus will become endemic, returning each year like the flu.
Life with Coronavirus is the New Normal
Life with Coronavirus is the new normal. We are now tasked with learning how to live in a COVID-19 world and balancing that with our need for living rich, fulfilled lives, protecting our emotional, physical, and mental health, and working together as a community to keep everyone as healthy as possible.
For many of us, this new reality involves taking personal risk to seek healing ourselves and to facilitate healing for others. Just because this virus is happening does not suddenly end the rest of the health, wellness, emotional, mental, economic, and societal issues we have to face. For many people, the healing they need cannot wait until it’s a “better time.” For many, the risk is worth the possible life altering outcome that comes with taking the chance.
When you are suffering with anxiety, depression, low self-worth, addiction, PTSD, mental anguish, emotional pain, or chronic illness, the choice to take action and get care can be a choice between life or death. It feels dire, and the consequences of waiting to care for yourself are real and profound. The damage being caused to all of us as a whole as a result of isolation, loneliness, economic ruin, disconnection from community and family, homelessness, and loss off purpose and hope are serious and will have psychological and emotional ripples for decades to come.
Psychedelic Retreats, Coronavirus, and Safety
Are psychedelic retreats safe in the time of COVID-19? Like most things in this new pandemic reality, everything has a certain amount of risk. Staying home, wearing masks, and remaining vigilant and cautious is the safest option, PERIOD.
While many areas are still under strict travel restrictions, lockdown, and even mandatory quarantines and curfews, wherever there are shamans and medicine people praying with tobacco around sacred fires, there are avenues to go on retreat and heal with psychedelics.
Just like choosing to work with the medicines at all, only you can decide what is safe and right for you and your loved ones. Here are some things to seriously consider when taking this decision:
- Determine your personal level of need for healing, are you in a place where additional risk to receive the medicine is truly warranted?
- Is there a lower risk, more accessible option to work with psychedelics on your own, locally with a trusted group, or with a guide?
- Are you or do you live with someone who is high risk for serious complications, severe illness, or death from COVID-19?
- Who else will be affected if you attend? Include people you live and work with in your discussion and consideration. It is imperative to have the consent of those who share space with you.
- Are you prepared to be tested for COVID-19 before and after your travels?
- Are you prepared to self-quarantine for two weeks after your return?
- Are you willing to follow all safety procedures including mask wearing, sanitization, social distancing, etc. throughout your travels?
- Do you understand that choosing to attend a retreat could expose you and/or others to COVID-19, particularly if safety protocols are not maintained throughout your retreat?
- Are you willing to cancel or delay your trip if you become ill or begin showing symptoms of the virus?
- Are you willing to be fully transparent with staff and other guests if you begin feeling ill during your retreat?
This is by no means an exhaustive list, it is meant to inspire you to think critically and be thoughtful before choosing to take any risks involving travel or gathering in groups at psychedelic retreats during COVID-19. Psychedelic medicine retreats are still happening, and healing with psychedelics is still needed and occurring. Many well-known medicine retreat centers are beginning to reopen and will continue to do so into the spring and summer of 2021. It is up to you to research the protocols in place at any center you are considering, as it is even more important now that there are screening efforts, testing requirements, and safety plans in place wherever you choose to go. Who you sit with and the container you create to receive the your psychedelic healing experience is just as important as the medicine itself.
Where We Stand and Creating a New Future
Healing with psychedelics is not only our livelihood, it’s our lifeline. Working with plant medicines is how we evolved beyond addiction, connected to our deepest selves, and became fully whole and empowered to live the lives we deserve. Healing with psychedelics enables us to be of service to others and to our community. Because healing is an ongoing process, and the path is lifelong, we have chosen to light the way by helping others do the same work that we are doing ourselves. And we fully believe in the healing power of psychedelic retreats with others doing the same work.
Since our inception in 2019, Mystical Heart Collective has been creating Psychedelic Integration Academy™, a complete holistic program to help people heal with psychedelics. It’s online, fully accessible, and designed as the perfect companion for self-healing psychedelic explorers, retreat participants, and those seeking preparation, navigation, and integration support at every point in their journey.
We work from home and have been completely isolated from friends and community since our return from Ecuador in March to immediate lockdown in the US. We are grateful to have had the privilege of time, space, and resources to build our psychedelic healing practice and we are ready to shift from sheltering in place into a future where we can share the work we do with those who need it.
Going through this difficult time away from medicine and friends helped us realize how powerful the plant medicine family truly is, and has highlighted how vital the psychedelic retreat experience is to achieving lasting healing in the model that we use to support our clients. As our work has evolved, so has our dream of creating a full circle healing experience, and for us, that includes offering and facilitating retreats.
As always, we walk in the fire first. I am writing this article from an Airbnb in Sayulita, Nayarit, Mexico. As you read this, I will be attending a 7 day psilocybin mushroom retreat myself to fully assess the group experience in our new world-with-coronavirus reality, and to personally investigate what we need to do as facilitators and leaders to create the safest, most healing retreat experiences available.
But the main reason I am here is for my own healing – for my own heart, for my own mind, and for my own health. The work I do isn’t possible unless I put my mask on first, and I am willing to risk airports and travel and self-quarantine and everything I mentioned above to receive the care I need for myself. Plant medicine is part of my personal healing protocol, and it has never felt more relevant, necessary, or important.
Psychedelic medicines are the most powerful tool in my own personal care toolbox, and it’s a path I take very seriously. For me, the risk is worth the reward. I understand some people may feel this is a reckless act or that I am causing harm to others, and I accept the risk, knowing that this path is aligned with my highest good and that of the whole. Healing myself helps everyone around me. It’s the only thing that helps. The fear response to this crisis has often felt more dangerous than the virus itself. While we are absolutely cautious and informed, that is not a vibration we choose to participate in.
John is also separately working with plant medicines outside the country for several weeks, and we are committed to continuing to walk the healing path alongside you, leading the way, and finding a new way forward together.
It is our intention to partner with trusted and vetted medicine family retreat centers for referrals going forward, in addition to beginning our own retreat hosting schedule in the Spring of 2021. We can only recommend places and people we know, love, and trust. That’s just how we do things.
Join our mailing list below to find out more about our future plans and how you can work with us no matter where you are on the path with psychedelics. More to come!
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