When I first heard about the tragedy of the Ghost Ship warehouse fire in Oakland, California, my immediate fear was for the safety of my friends in the Bay Area. I was relieved to learn they were safe, but my heart still went out to the victims and their friends and family. As the smoke settled, I felt a sense of fear and uneasiness regarding the future of the alternative art community in Oakland. Like many others, I wondered how this tragedy would affect Oakland’s countless live-work spaces and what could be done to help their community.
These feelings of helplessness, confusion, and fear are common emotions after such a tragedy. Before the community and the individuals affected by the event can move forward in a productive way, it is important that these negative emotions are recognized and dealt with, usually through a form of catharsis. Unfortunately, with large tragedies like the Ghost Ship fire, you may not know how to express these emotions or you may feel emotionally numb for a period. Individual reflection, therapy, and group memorials can all be excellent ways to seek catharsis, but the use of the traditional medicine kambo can also help individuals find resolution after tragedy.
Kambo Ceremonies and Catharsis
Kambo is a highly cleansing medicine which is said to help negative spiritual or emotional energies. In fact, it was first intended to lift what a sort of spiritual melancholy known as “panema” from tribe members. But this deep sense of cleansing isn’t just a metaphor—kambo also produces clear physical symptoms which actually facilitate its powers of emotional healing. After taking kambo, you will likely vomit and use the toilet several times. You may begin sweating and your eyes will tear up. These symptoms will last anywhere from 10-45 minutes and, while not the most comfortable experience, these symptoms help you move forward emotionally by mimicking the physical reactions commonly associated with catharsis. Similar to how crying over a sad movie can help you heal from a break-up by allowing you to express your painful feelings, the intense physical effects of kambo help you purge yourself of your deep emotions in order to move on. And, as an added bonus, your digestive tract and lymphatic system will also be cleaner!
Unlike psychedelic treatments, kambo does not affect your state of consciousness. This means you will remain aware of what is happening and be able to concentrate on specific events, thoughts, or issues while undergoing a kambo ceremony. Many people reflect inwards during the purging process and find an inner strength they were unaware of, and others discover the root of their emotional pain or psychological struggles. Essentially, kambo serves as a method to connect the physical body with the emotional or spiritual self by allowing for a deep period of self-reflection. During this period, people taking kambo will have the opportunity to explore their feelings regarding a tragedy, and many say the intensity of the experience helps them gain a sense of closure. Afterward, most people emerge from the experience feeling strong, clean, and energized.
General Catharsis Versus Event-Specific Catharsis
In order for the physical symptoms of kambo to help you process a specific emotional tragedy, you will need to go into the ceremony with clear intentions, perhaps by talking with a therapist before the ceremony or by bringing a specific talisman to help you concentrate on a specific event. This will keep you focused and ensure your set and setting are conducive to the kind of healing you’re seeking. For large community tragedies, you may want to set up a kambo ceremony with a group of people who also experienced the tragedy. Kambo ceremonies are usually social events which promote bonding, and the shared trauma will help the group support each other as individuals work through their emotions. It can be a good idea to discuss your emotions in a group both before and after the ceremony. Meeting with an integration therapist after the ceremony may also be helpful in processing whatever feelings came up during the ceremony and integrating them into your life. This is especially important if you do not achieve the catharsis you desired or if the ceremony opened up deeper emotions than you expected.
After a community tragedy like the Ghost Ship fire, it is understandable to experience deep, confusing, or painful emotions. There are many ways of coping with these feelings and the specific path you choose is ultimately up to you, but know that one potential method of achieving catharsis is through the cleansing powers of kambo. By creating the physical symptoms of catharsis and providing a space for inner reflection, a kambo ceremony can jumpstart your self-expression and help you gain closure or clarity about a situation. After you have taken care of yourself, it is easier to begin making concrete plans to bolster your community and prevent future tragedies.