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Pain & Pleasure are the Ecstasy of Life

aztec jaguar shadow work Feb 28, 2024

When Danny and I embarked on our psychedelic healing journey, we didn’t realize we would end up on many other side quests along the way. As our mentor would say, "Healing never looks like what you think it’s going to look like.”

As we were processing our journeys and looking into different integration and healing modalities, I started looking into my ancestral roots. Both of my parents were born in Mexico and even though I was born in NYC, I have always felt deeply connected to my Mexican ancestry. Through a series of events, I ended up taking a class on the Aztec calendar. My teachers, Sergio Magaña and Hugo Nahui taught me how to interpret the calendar and work with the energies in the way my ancestors did. I learned how to read my own birth chart using this ancient wisdom, and in doing so, learned a lot more about myself.

My day sign, which is the energy that is most influential to my personality, turned out to be the Jaguar. In Aztec mythology, the Jaguar represents the Underworld. People born under this energy work a lot with the subconscious mind to unravel familial patterns.

One thing that stuck out to me was when Hugo stated, “when the Jaguar appears to you, you have to be willing to allow it to devour you.”

I was fascinated by this concept and thought about it a lot. I love shadow work. I’ve often joked that shadow work is my love language because I really do enjoy spending time diving into my subconscious mind. Psychedelics became another path for me to dive into that realm and explore my own underworlds. 

In the fall of 2021, I went to a women’s retreat in Baja, Mexico. Though we did not work with psychedelics at this retreat, we did a lot of shadow work and emotional processing. I uncovered a massive clue regarding my maternal lineage that really put a lot of my fears about motherhood into perspective.

On the 3rd day, we went to a Temazcal (sweat lodge.) In the darkness of this womb-like structure, I released things from my maternal lineage, healed some ancestral trauma, and prayed for the women in my lineage.

As I sat there crying, I saw (in my mind’s eye) a black jaguar coming straight to me. I felt like it was coming right up to my face… and I panicked. I closed my eyes and turned away. 

I felt so disappointed that I had not allowed myself to surrender, but I was also excited that the black jaguar had appeared to me. I felt like it was confirmation that I was moving in the right direction and perhaps being welcomed into the realms of the Jaguar. 

Almost two years later, in October of 2023, Danny and I had a mushroom ceremony, where he was calling in the energy of Dionysus- the god of ecstatic pleasure. I was excited for this experience because I too was looking to do some more work to release shame and to allow myself to experience pleasure on a deeper level.

Once the mushrooms came on, I started to feel uncomfortable in my body. I got up to use the bathroom and suddenly I felt extremely restless.

I ripped off all of my clothes, took the rings off of my fingers, and even broke a bracelet off of my wrist. I stood in front of the mirror and felt like I had to get out of there. I had a moment of fear, and thought that if I was not familiar with psychedelics and how they work, I would have probably called for an ambulance. I knew this was the threshold some people were afraid of. I felt like I had a choice. I could put my clothes back on, go out and ask for help, or surrender to what was happening.

I chose to surrender and suddenly, it felt as though I was being devoured. I didn’t see a jaguar- I didn’t have to. I knew that I was being devoured and when I looked back in the mirror, I seemed different. I walked out of the bathroom completely naked and felt like a Jaguar walking through a jungle. I went back into the room (and surprised both Danny and our friend with my nudity) and lay down on one of the mats. Danny knew something was different. He told me he didn’t even want to touch me because he knew something holy was happening. As I laid down and closed my eyes, I felt deep waves of the most profound pleasure I have ever felt.

I felt the ecstasy of life- how both pain and pleasure are ecstatic. As I allowed these waves to come over me, I could see how the experiences of pain and pleasure were just like the inhale and exhale of the breath. As I lay there feeling waves of pleasure and ecstasy, Danny and our friend were chatting through their own experience. Everything they said seemed to clear to me- the things they were frustrated about were ecstatic. I could see how even their frustration was a form of pleasure.

A few years ago, I read a book called Existential Kink, by Carolyn Elliot. She talks about how in some ways, it is our kink to suffer. I could see it so clearly in this moment- especially as they were talking about their frustrations. I could feel the pleasure of it! As the waves of pleasure continued, it felt like madness. I repeated three mantras over and over: “we always have a choice,” “we can do hard things,” and “it’s all ecstatic pleasure.

I realized that in the Temazcal, I chose not to let the Jaguar devour me. I wasn’t ready. In the bathroom, I made the choice to surrender, and I felt on a deeper level, that I could do hard things. And once I fully surrendered, I was able to see the ecstatic pleasure of life itself- both the suffering and the joy.

It has been a few months and I am still integrating this experience. When faced with difficult situations, I remind myself that I always have a choice, that I can do hard things, and that regardless of what I choose, it’s ecstatic. This doesn’t make things easier, per se, but it does help me tune in to the deeper parts of myself to recognize where I am choosing to suffer, what part of me enjoys suffering, and what choices I can make that may feel hard in the moment, but will bring me even more pleasure. It’s a practice. As we have shared before, psychedelics aren’t a magic pill that fix everything, they simply reveal those parts of ourselves that we hadn’t seen before.

If you’re ready to dive into your subconscious and allow yourself to be “devoured,” I invite you to check out our Psychedelics 101 Course: Heal Yourself Safely. In this course we share the basics, including safety tips to ensure that even your most “difficult” trip is safe and gets you the insights you need to heal yourself. 

With Deep Love,

Vanessa Velez-Panzella
Trauma Informed Psychedelic Relationship Guide
Sovereign Love NYC

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