Like a lot of you reading this, I have struggled during this period of isolation. Everyone’s experiences are different, our feelings originate from an extensive range of circumstances, so understand that what you’re feeling now, what you’ve already battled through, or what might come in the future is completely valid. We’ve been forced into a way of life that goes completely against our human nature and has disrupted our individual routines. What I’m saying is that nobody’s personal struggle is more important than another. Do not feel that you can’t acknowledge or speak out about your feelings because you deem them inadequate to those of others, because I can tell you now they’re not.
Self awareness is incredibly vital, yet it’s undervalued and underused in our society, and I would even go as far as saying almost criminalised through stigma and public perception. Just like your phone, your car, or your computer, your body communicates with you when there’s something wrong, but unfortunately more often than not, we’ll fix our phone before we’ll fix ourselves. On top of that we tend to prioritise our physical health over our mental health…but there is no difference, in fact they’re strongly connected. In mental health, just like in physical health, ignoring a small issue can lead it to develop into something life changing or even threatening.
My experiences in isolation have brought me to some dark places, and it took me the guts of 7 weeks to finally stop and acknowledge it. I had no space left to bury those feelings down, and with social restrictions in place, I could no longer escape or hide from my shit. I began the process of really dissecting and evaluating my thoughts and feelings….What are they? Where have the originated from? Are the thoughts that created them valid enough to have them that deep rooted inside me?. About 4 days into this, I approached my wife to explain the work I had put into myself, and some of the conclusions I had reached so far. Naturally she was delighted for me beginning a journey towards peace of mind and happiness, but she then suggested something that I never thought I would ever consider, but ended up being life changing in the way I approach both my mental health as well as my relationship and communication with my body.
“I’m considering doing a Ceremonial Grade Cacao Sunrise Ceremony, maybe you’d be interested in joining me?”
“A what?” I hear you say!….and that’s a completely acceptable response. I’m open minded when it comes to alternative ideas and practices, and it’s not something I’d even heard mentioned before. It involved waking at 5am every morning for 7 days, while the sun rises, and taking part in a guided meditation based around drinking a cup of ceremonial grade cacao. This particular cacao is grown in Guatemala, where the locals pick the beans, peel them by hand, roast them, and then ferment them into blocks., meaning you’re getting a pure and natural form of cacao, allowing you to receive the true essence and benefits of the plant. Before you ask, there’s no drug like effects, it doesn’t create chemical highs or experiences. Everyone’s experience will be different, as cacao is a natural product, what you’re dealing with is yourself….it brings what’s inside of you to the surface. For me, it brought a lot of communication with my body and mind…allowing me to further analyse and continue my journey. As a comparison, my wife had a much more spiritual experience, nothing like my own.
After the second morning, I knew I needed to journal everything that was happening, as both mornings differed greatly. Now…before I go through each morning, and what I got from the whole experience, there’s a couple of things you should know about me. I’m a night owl, I’m not an early riser in the slightest, and the very first meditation I’ve ever done was coincidentally 5 days before I began this experience, when I attended a free online Mindfulness class. So what I was about to embark on was like nothing I’ve done before, and a huge commitment to myself to improve.
We were guided through the week by Natasha, an absolutely lovely human, who just radiates the nicest vibes and energy. Each morning was a group session on zoom, lasting 40-50 mins, and apart from one day, we sat on or in our bed with windows open, to watch the sunrise and hear the dawn chorus.
I was excited to see how the week would unfold. We started each day with a meditation focused on the 5 senses, and as this was happening, a huge wave of anxiety surged straight into my chest and my heart began racing. I wasn’t expecting it, but once I remembered why I was here, it made perfect sense, so I just embraced it and waited to see where it went. We then began drinking the cacao, and everything changed! Continuing the meditation while drinking the cacao sent a massive sense of relief through my whole body…but not only from the anxiety and racing heart…it completely released me of all thoughts and emotion. I felt absolutely free, a pure sense of relaxation, and with my eyes closed I felt alone with nothing around me for miles. I had been badly sun burned the day before, but for the remainder of the session the warm stingy sensation of the sunburn was gone. I could feel the clothes touching and rubbing off my skin, but with zero pain. I remember consciously trying to go against the natural flow of it at one stage, just to test it, so I thought of things I knew would trigger anger in me….but nothing surfaced….I was just completely void of negativity in this empty, safe space. In the later stages of the session, I physically couldn’t sit up anymore with the will of my body just wanting to lie back and fully engage with the experience.
I began with a similar rush of anxiety, but without the racing heart, it was just that raw horrible feeling you get in your chest. As the meditation continued, I could feel my heart in clear and powerful way, not something I had experienced before. It wasn’t an anxious or negative feeling, it was a positive connection. With each beat, my anxiety slowly faded, and when I had reached a sense of calm, I started receiving a message. My heart was reminding me that it’s at the centre of absolutely everything. That not only is it the life force of my physical self, but also of my emotional and mental self, and it’s central to every decision I make, every thought I create, every feeling that runs through me…and it’s time to begin to listen and trust in it more. Each day included a short breathwork session, followed by a song specifically chosen to match Natasha’s daily intention for the group. As the breathwork finished and the music started, I felt the need get up and release some energy by moving around the room and shaking it out. As I looked out the window to take in the sunrise and morning vibes, the fresh air hit me, and with that came this huge wave of positive emotion. My eyes welled up as my mind filled with thought after thought of pure appreciation. Over the next 15 minutes I continued to be hit with these random waves, just sitting there truly appreciating all the good people and good things in my life, even down to the small things like living in an area that still has a large amount of trees and greenery, allowing us to hear so many different birds in the morning.
No anxiety this morning! My heartbeat had a little strength in it, but it was almost as if it was showing me that it wasn’t racing, that it was beginning to regulate with the experience….a confirmation that all this work I was putting into myself was achieving something. My meditation also brought a strong message of regulation, and how I needed to regulate my way of living to support my mental and physical well being. I need to stop chasing certain people and things, be comfortable in myself and allow what I attract to come to me naturally, no longer trying to force certain outcomes or relationships. A very peaceful and empowering morning.
No overwhelming feeling came to the surface today. I felt nothing…clear body, clear mind…which in itself was overwhelming I suppose, as it was something completely new to me. It was an acknowledgement, a nod of approval from my body to the journey I was on. This morning’s breathwork ended with the most wonderful sense of calm physically rise up through my body, and in that moment I just felt completely content. A really lovely one this morning, and one that allowed me to reflect a little. I was proud of myself, and how far I’d come so far.
When I journaled today’s experience, physically wrote down the words “I’m proud of myself” and read them back, I just start crying. It was the first time, in a long long time, I’ve said this and actually truly meant it. It’s made me strongly consider journaling a lot more going forward, as a form of personal therapy and release.
Felt very nauseous when I woke up this morning, I’d been heavily binge eating the night before. I considered missing this mornings session, but an experience is just as much about the lows as it is the highs. My first bit of meditation settled me a bit, and as we moved onto drinking the cacao, each sip slowly eliminated my urge to vomit. I was still left with an uncomfortably heavy feeling in my stomach, a suggestion that I wasn’t getting a free pass on this one, and my body wasn’t letting me away with it. It questioned why I don’t look after my physical health as much as I do my mental health? Why I constantly talk about how both should be treated equally, but I’m not giving them the same attention? Why I’ve made a conscious effort not to feed my mind negative things, but I continually do it to my body? Why do I seek to give my mind rest, but deprive my body of sufficient sleep? An intense lecture, with extremely valid points! The rest of the session allowed me to wind down, and feel better both mentally and physically.
Today was all about the gratitude! I spent today’s session in the back garden, and took a moment to just look around….the clear red sky, the birds, the fresh air, my son’s toys scattered around the garden….it was all just perfect. My mind is genuinely starting to clear, and I was so grateful as I stood there to feel I was present in the moment and not just present in my own head. I was full of warmth and appreciation for where this journey had brought me, and thoroughly enjoyed my meditation with a pure sense of happiness. Natasha played a song she had played earlier in the week, “I Am Light” by India.Arie, which at first I thought was strange, but as soon as the lyrics started, it just hit me in a completely different way than when I originally heard it, and spoke to me on a much deeper level…quite an emotional moment. It also made me realise just how much your mindset and head space actually affects the way you see and hear things around you, which I found eye opening.
I started my final session with an excited anxiety, like the kind when it was time to leave a job you enjoyed, you fully enjoyed the experience but you know you’re moving on to bigger and better things. My meditation today was full of peace and reflection, something I could now do with a much clearer head and a new connection with both my body and mind. My final piece of breathwork cleared that sense of anxiety by sending comforting sense of warmth running through my body. It was a fitting end to what I found to be a rich and enlightening experience.
You can find Natasha at www.natashavavasour.com if a cacao experience is something that would interest you , or alternatively you can contact me on Instagram if you just want to chat about anything, my handle is eoin.shanahan
Please look after yourselves and each other, and be confident in who you are and what you stand for!