“I don’t know if I have any on this side,” says filmmaker Mareesa Stertz as she pulls up her sleeve and cranes her neck to get a look at her shoulder. She’s at the premier of her docu-series, The Healing Powers of Weed, Psychedelics, and Other Mindfulness Practices, and is checking for three small, healed burns through which she was administered the Brazilian frog medicine, Kambo.
“More and more research is showing how our bodies store our emotional experiences on the physical and cellular levels,” she continues. “So when we have trauma, we tense up and hold it. Animals have a little seizure, shake it out, and move on after they’ve had a trauma. But humans don’t have a system for doing that. We have systems for personal hygiene and physical education, and somehow we can have fucking fighter jets and the most advanced technology… but we haven’t yet figured out how to have systems for our own emotional processing and well-being. Blockages come from these traumas. When you’re working with psychedelics or mindful practices, these are the tools to unlock that trauma.”
Art is another.
Debuted in early August via Merry Jane (a cannabis media platform shepherded by Snoop Dogg), The Healing Powers documents her own experiences with entheogens all over the world in a way that — based on the episodes on view — avoids the easy pitfall of shamanistic tourism, and instead positions Stertz and the crew as conscious outsiders and grateful acolytes.
“It’s interesting that I still get a little self-conscious talking about this. The world looks down at this sort of self work of being vulnerable and open about your weaknesses. That’s why I’m here. I’m really wanting to reframe that,” she shares with her audience.
As though a Time magazine photograph flicked a few grains off its polyester lapel and sprang to technicolor life, the scene that night was a living tableau of any 1960’s conclave of expansion seekers, albeit with slightly shorter hair. High on the agenda is the promotion of psychic and emotional health. The emphasis on both is key: working together these two faculties are inextricable from and predicative to the ultimate expressions of total wellness — a willingness to be both vulnerable and accountable.
While psychedelic movements of the 60’s and 70’s searched for a way out through the astral frontier, contemporary forays into entheogens seek healing by plumbing our internal landscapes. This focus on feelings is new, as is the wisdom regarding how to process them. Emotional dexterity (neither denying one’s emotional reaction nor granting oneself carte blanche, and instead committing to curiosity) is merely one of a handful of interceptions into white supremacist, capitalist patriarchy this pocket of new wave psychedelic advocates is empowered to make. The vertiginous spin through space and time reinvigorated the idea that accountability — emotional, psychic, spiritual, intellectual — as a non-negotiable is in our own as well as others’ best interests. The bad stuff isn’t just out there, in the system, in the establishment, in the Man… it’s in us, too. In a sense, we’ve shown up because we want the kind of unmitigated access to ourselves that requires we face even the parts we don’t like, however ego dystonic the trip.
Choosing a healing modality to facilitate this process is and should be individualized. “I think it does depend on who you are; what works for you and what doesn’t,” Stertz explains. “It’s not all about substances. I recommend finding something grounded without substance to help the practice along.”
In other words, building containers for our healing practices helps maximize their impact. Contrary to youthful logics of resistance, parameters can as easily catalyze a liberatory experience as they can restrict one. This is backed by the weight of experience and traumas survived, sometimes over and over.
Contiguous with the evening’s overall themes, the screening ended with a call to the audience to actively care for the collective by embracing courage and endurance. “Share your stories,” we are told. “Be transparent.” The goal here isn’t to gloss over the messiness of the journey. It is not having to venture alone.
Writer and journalist Celia Gold earned her first MA in Aesthetics and Politics at the California Institute of the Arts and her second MA in Performance Studies at NYU. Celia writes at the intersection of women of color feminisms, wellness, and entheogenic plant medicine in California’s burgeoning cannabis industry.