Yesterday, I went up to Turners Falls, Massachusetts to attend my first cacao ceremony. I knew I would, of course, be drinking cacao (the raw form of chocolate used for healing and medicinal purposes), but I had no idea what else to expect. Admittedly, I was a little nervous walking into The Local Yoga Joint (a gorgeous studio overlooking Turners Falls Canal). My friend was running an hour late, I didn't know any of the other attendees, and I knew by walking in the front door, I was committing myself to four hours of vulnerability and openness. Almost immediately though, Alexa--one of the two facilitators for the ceremony--popped out from behind the front counter and wrapped me in her warm embrace. She welcomed me, asked me a little about myself, and and then led me over to the cacao station to meet Moses, the other facilitator. From that moment, I felt at ease. Alexa and Moses set the loving, accepting tone of the room and carried it throughout the entire ceremony.
The first thing we did once everyone (well, most everyone--I was still waiting for my friend) arrived was drink the cacao. We introduced ourselves, stated something we were each grateful for, and then headed over to the enticing pot of steaming goodness. Moses ladled out the ceremonial dose of two ounces of cacao (two ounces of cacao shavings melted in about six ounces of hot water) for each person, while Alexa stood by the added ingredients. As Moses handed out the rich cups of decadence, he explained how cacao facilitates healing by opening up the body physically, in the lungs, heart, and blood vessels, as well as opening up the body mentally and spiritually. I took my cup, inhaled the delicious healing to come, and then moved over to the extra ingredients. As I added the cinnamon and honey for taste, Alexa explained the importance of adding cayenne pepper as well to boost metabolism and help the body absorb the cacao faster. I followed her advice and added the cayenne pepper--not as much as she personally would have added but enough to get the effects and avoid an embarrassing coughing attack in the middle of my first ceremony.
With everyone cozy in the studio room, seated on a blanket and sipping cacao, we prepared for our first activity: the body walk-through journey. Moses invited everyone to get comfortable, grab some blankets and bolsters, and lie down with our eyes closed. As the cacao began to take effect, tingling through the body and opening up the heart, we all went off on our own separate journeys, following Moses's voice as a guide toward deeper self-understanding. We were asked to return to a place of comfort--a place where we felt safe and at home--and then we ventured down a set of stairs, underground, to discover a box on a table and an object inside. We had the option to keep the object or leave it behind, and then venture back up the stairs to our place of comfort to assimilate the discovery. After the walk-through, we all sat back up and shared our experiences. At first, I held back, opting not to share and instead just listen, but as the room opened up with variety, honesty, and raw vulnerability, I began to feel more comfortable. I began to realize we were all here for the same reason: to connect and heal.
By the time the first hour passed, I was so involved with the group, sharing my story and hearing others', I didn't even notice my friend arrive. She slipped in beside me and smiled as I turned to her.
"You look so calm!" she laughed.
She was right. The cacao and the loving community was definitely having an effect on me. I felt deeply peaceful and powerfully present.
After our second round of cacao, we returned to the studio to dance! As the music started to fill the room, Alexa went around like a beautiful, nimble pixie, waving her arms around like two wands, spreading the magical dance vibe. Some people danced wildly and freely, while others danced subtly on the side. The style and energy-level didn't matter. What mattered was listening to the music and allowing our bodies to move in whatever ways they felt compelled. We were all accepted. Alexa made everyone feel loved just as we were. She brought out the playful child in us all.
After dancing around for about five or six songs, we all melted to the floor and spread out for a deep meditation to the intoxicating sound of a harmonium. The steady vibration of the long-held notes transmitted me to a heavenly, profound place out toward the horizon, floating above the ocean, surrounded by laughing children and friends. I was moved. I was inspired. I even cried a little, and in that moment of bitter-sweet sadness, my friend leaned in beside me knowingly, linking me up with the synergy and undeniable human connection in the room.
Once we all came back to the studio and opened our eyes, we were asked to pair off with people we didn't know and open up one-on-one. Without breaking eye contact with our partner, Moses invited us to express what it would feel like and what might happen if we showed our love, our anger, our power, and our sadness to the person across from us--a virtual stranger. Even after all the dancing and cacao drinking, I was nervous for this intimate step, but I dove in head-first anyway. I repeated the phrase, "If I showed you my love," and let pour forth whatever truth consequently flowed from my mind. The effect was intense. I almost cried. I tried to turn away in shame and fear, but my partner never let me down. As we switched partners for each new phrase, every person, no matter their age, their appearance, their history or experience, they all held space for me in their trusting, loving eyes, and I did the same. We all got to know each other deeply and quickly through the windows of our wide open souls.
By the end, I felt kind of high. Not high in a drugged way, but high in a natural, heightened-by-genuine human connection way. As we all sat in a circle and closed our eyes to complete the ceremony, I couldn't help myself--I smiled and said out loud, "I love this place!" I arrived feeling anxious and timid, missing my friend, and left feeling open and loving, surrounded by many new friends. The warmth from cacao spreads far beyond the cup--it flows through the bloodstream and has the power to tear down walls and expand across a room. This may have been my first cacao ceremony, but it most certainly won't be my last.