The room was dark. Dancing candlelight warmed the faces of those sitting in the circle. They have come from both the United States and Baja California to participate in the ancient cacao ceremony. A deep stillness settles into the room and we are anticipating the moment when we will taste the dark chocolate drink. Drew and Annel, our guides and founders of the Casa Ayni Retreats, begin to tell us the history and what we might experience. Unlike other plant medicine from the jungles of southern Mexico and South America, the cacao has no mind altering effects. Yet there are many reports that the spirit of the cacao can be experienced by those who partake. She is woman and her nature is carefree happiness and love.
It has been raining, consequently Drew brings the sacred fire inside, and places the glowing embers on a bed of wet beach sand on the floor. Each movement is done with full attention and with full intention to prepare the ceremony, honoring the spirit of the cacao, as well as honoring everyone present. He reaches for the eagle feather and fans the coals, placing a pinch of copal resin into the fire. It fills the room with fragrant smoke. Annel moves gracefully around those seated on the floor, and using a fan of hawk wing feathers and a bowl of smoking copal, she smudges each person. This is also an ancient tradition to clear personal energy, bringing all of us together in a peaceful union. Drew begins to sing a song of the hummingbird, the words in Spanish, musical poetry. His young daughter sits beside him and keeps the beat on her small drum. Drew’s medicine song comes from deep within his heart.
The candle’s flickering light bathes our hands holding the cups. We are all invited to take our first sip. A touch of sugar has been added to sweeten the natural bitterness. Different spices can be added such as cinnamon, nutmeg or vanilla. This evening the authentic Mayan addition of cayenne pepper is used. We are to focus our intention into the heart of the cacao. We ask her to bring happiness into our lives. We are experiencing what some call the oldest holistic healing method. By quieting the mind’s chatter, this allows for falling into our deeper intuitive nature. In present time, it is being seen as one way to reduce stress; stress being linked and proven to be the cause of many kinds of modern day illnesses. This is somewhat like being given mom’s homemade chicken soup when we are sick. There is a warm and wonderful essence of love that is transferred and gives us a feeling of well being. A cold hard pill can never deliver this special experience.
The rich chocolate aroma rises up and fills the senses. I close my eyes. We are all very still as we take our first sip. The warm chocolate with just a hint of pepper fills my mouth. I let the experience unfold, noticing a smile touching my lips. There is no other reason for this spontaneous reaction, except the delight in taking in the ancient brew. I have a secret hope that I will actually meet Her, this woman spirit of the cacao. Maybe she will come and run happily through the jungle of my mind. The room fades away as attention is fully engaged in drinking in this gift of nature. Science actually supports what the early people knew from their personal experiences. The active ingredient in the cacao is called theobromine, which produces beta-endorphins that are directly responsible for the feelings of calm, relaxation and happiness. Also tryptophan produces serotonin and has been linked to emotional ecstasy. However, in this experience, being in this ceremony with others, far surpasses the clinical knowledge.
We are invited to share our experiences as we drink. Those gathered here did not know one another, but through this ancient practice, the depth of the sharing would not happen in a social event. Women share how it felt to be able to speak in this way; being heard is powerful medicine. A man shared how he had been carrying sadness in his heart for the loss of a dear friend and he was eased of the burden. We came to see that we were not strangers to one another. When we speak from our hearts, it is heard by others, with similar experiences. The cacao brought us together and created a family. I place my empty mug on the floor and appreciated the beauty of the room glowing in the candlelight. I close my eyes for a moment and I swear I hear the spirit of the cacao’s delighted laughter as she beckons me into her world.
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Martina's email: mteomaya(at)gmail.com