Rythmia is a luxury health resort in Guanacaste, Costa Rica that includes ceremonies with ayahuasca and san pedro among its offerings. The first medically licensed facility to provide plant spirit medicine in the world, it also features workshops lead by Rev. Michael Beckwith and the renowned yogi Shiva Rea. I spoke with Rythmia founder Gerard Powell about his pioneering approach to plant spirit medicine.
KJ: When you describe Rythmia to someone who hasn’t heard of it before, what do you say?
GAP: I say that we’re a spiritual center with a focus on plant medicine therapies, as well as other traditional therapies, in an environment that’s more high end than is usually experienced. The hotel itself stands on it’s own as a hotel, and I don’t think that there’s many places like that in operation currently.
To the best of my knowledge, Rythmia is the first premium resort that offers plant spirit medicine. Ceremonies are actually part of an all-inclusive package, right?
What made you think this was a good idea?
Because I had gone on my own to a place to do plant medicine, and I was just shocked at the conditions. It was dirty, the food wasn’t good and I honestly didn’t trust anybody. But I was already committed, I had already paid for it. That’s the only reason I did the medicine — which thank God I did, because I had the most beautiful, life changing experience!
But as soon as that was done, I thought, “What if this could be done in a safe container? A place that was a really nice resort, and had a medical license and medical staff, to put people at ease. And at the same time had gourmet farm-to-table organic food, a wonderful spa, nice accommodations, and all the things lacking from my first experience?”
A lot of people now are doing plant medicine on their friend’s sofa in Hollywood (laughs) and that’s really not the way that I would like to see people experience their plant medicine ceremony. I’d like to see it in a place like I envisioned. Then when I saw this place I said, Ah, this is it, so I went and got it.
Well some would say that plant medicine, as it has been used in an indigenous context, has never been a luxury experience.
Many people feel that the grittiness of their plant medicine experience helped to make it more profound, more valuable.
I would say that any way you can get plant medicine administered in the right way, with a quality shaman, with the right intention, that’s a great way to get it. But for many people, the very thing that you just said, the grittiness — the flies, the mosquitoes, the snakes and tarantulas — keeps them from doing this medicine. There are many more people who would give this medicine a try, had it not been for what they have to go through. Ask a thousand people, “Would you go to Peru, hike up a trail, ride a donkey, spend the night in a dirty, gritty environment, this and that. It will make you healthier!” Well, some people will say yes, most people will say no.
At Rythmia we have that jungle experience — with shamans who work in different traditions — in an environment people are used to. Now you can win more people with plant medicine, and that’s the truth I feel in my soul.
Of course for many people the difficulty of the journey is part of the journey. Right? The challenges they overcome actually enhances the experience. Some would say that ayahuasca journeys are not meant to be so easy available, that there needs to be a certain trial of passage.
I don’t disagree with that Ken. Where most people are experiencing the plant medicine is on their friend’s floor in Williamsburg, and that’s not much of a journey. With a place like this, you’re actually coming with an intention. The only difference between coming to us and going to Peru is that we’re a little bit closer, about an hour and a half closer on the flight, and the environment is nicer. But you still have to make a commitment, take the journey, and have an intention. I believe a lot more people would do it our way than would do it any other way.
You’re saying that ultimately what matters is your encounter with the sacrament, not the environment. Whatever helps you to have that experience is valuable. Certainly many people might be more willing to try plant spirit medicine at a place like Rythmia that feels inviting to them. It is, after all, a beautiful health resort.
I love that part of it. And the fact that it’s medically licensed. That’s a huge thing because even though there’s not a serious health risk, it’s comforting to know that a government agency issued us a medical license based on certain criteria we met. I’ve done over a hundred ceremonies, and every time I see a nurse out of the corner of my eye, it just makes me feel better (laughs)! I know nothing can go wrong, but it still makes me feel better.
Do nurses actually participate in the ceremony?
There are nurses that are present during the ceremony that monitor you, watch your blood pressure, and look at you to see if you need any help. Just knowing they’re there, that there’s a doctor and nurse present, makes me feel much better.
Just to be clear, do nurses actually drink sacrament?
No, but they’re within the journey space. They check on you at various times during the night to make sure you’re okay and comfortable. I’ve done ayahuasca on on the floor of a house of someone I don’t know. It’s a completely different feeling to do it in an environment where you can completely let go and not worry about the things you worry about when you’re on someone’s floor!
What was required of you in order to get that medical license?
It was a bit of an undertaking. First off, you have to make sure that you have handicap access ramps and allowances everywhere throughout the property. Each room has to be equipped with certain things. In addition to that, I had to build a complete Intensive Care Unit with defibrillators, blood machines, and other equipment mandated by the government. We have an entry and exit ramp made for an ambulance with its own separate entrance, a medical entrance, and an emergency entrance.
It’s similar to starting an urgent care center in a state like California, so that licensing process took over a year. Not only are we licensed for general medical procedures, we’re also licensed for the issuance and distribution of certain plant medicines like ayahuasca and san pedro. We’re one of the only organizations in the world that possess that kind of license.
Have you heard of anyone else who does?
I haven’t heard of anyone (laughs) and I’m constantly looking. If they do it’s a very well kept secret.
As far as I know, it’s the first time any place has tried to secure that kind of license from a government. Is it possible for other resorts or retreat centers in Costa Rica to get a medical license?
I’m sure they could, but not too many owner-operated types want the expense of having doctors and nurses on staff, 24 hours a day, and be under constant scrutiny. We are consistently reviewed to make sure patient records and equipment are right, that staffing requirements have been met, and that we’re not cutting corners.
Fortunately, I came out of the medical business in the US, so I’m used to dealing with medical oversight. But most folks in in small businesses aren’t, and don’t want to spend the money to hire all these doctors, psychologists, case workers, and all the things you need to have a medical facility. They would find it easier to operate without the license.
If I had known this place existed the first time I did plant medicine, I would have been here in two minutes. The fact of the matter is we’re less expensive than the place I went to. The feeling of safety, the other spiritual programs we offer truly make it a safe container in which to get to know yourself again. That’s really what people want. They just want to know that they’re safe and comfortable. It’s hard enough if you’ve fallen out of touch with yourself, and the re-acquaintance process can be pretty rough. To do ayahuasca in an environment where you’re unsure of the immediate environment around you makes it even harder. From my perspective, doing it in a place where you know you’re really being held makes it a much easier journey.
How do you determine who’s leading the ceremonies?
We heavily vet anybody who comes in to a lead a ceremony. Someone can’t just say “I studied with this group in the Amazon for this long” — we actually do our homework and find out, did they? We test everybody. We watch them counsel before and after ceremonies, and watch them do two or three integration classes. This is after they’ve been properly vetted and had their experience confirmed, because you can find people who have led ceremonies and still don’t have what I call “the magic.” The magic is being able to look at someone and see what that person needs on an emotional level, and having that relationship not just with the person but with the medicine as well
Do the people leading ceremonies all part of one group, working within a particular lineage?
No, it’s varied. I have people that really understand the medicine, the chemistry, and do what I call a clean ceremony that’s completely devoid of dogma or tradition. It’s just the provision of high quality medicine, music, and support. That’s one offering we have.
Then, we have a really deep Colombian tradition that has live music, an amazing jungle shaman, and all the tradition that goes with that ceremony. It’s an all night, exhausting ceremony for everyone concerned, but it is amazing. We try to provide both a traditional and nontraditional ceremony, all of the highest quality.
When one comes to Rythmia, is there a shamanic program that they would participate in? A certain number of journeys over the course of their stay?
Yes. They would have a certain amount of journeys based on the program they selected. They might have a san pedro journey and two ayahuasca journeys within a week. What we’ve seen with testing back and forth is by having a day or two between ceremonies, you really get a chance to integrate. In the right environment, that integration is equally as important as the ceremony itself.
So you have integration circles?
Yes, we have a daily integration class, a class before you go into the ceremony, and a class after the ceremony. In the class after the ceremony there’s a deep integration done by a shaman and spiritual counselors who help you with your particular integration. I’ve received as much healing from an integration as I have from ceremony! There were things I took away from the ceremony that I would’ve had a different opinion about if I kept them to myself rather than discussing them with the shaman. That was one of the biggest jewels that I ever took from a ceremony: realizing something I wouldn’t have understood if I just took it at face value.
What drew you to plant medicine yourself?
I was a successful business guy leading a terrible, terrible life. The most unhappy life. When it’s yours it always seems like the worst, but mine was terrible. I was inundated with the excesses of everything. I drank too much, did too much drugs, too much sex, too many girlfriends, too much of everything. I was like a machine, a consuming machine, and I was terribly unhappy. Almost suicidal. As a matter of fact, I was suicidal. The reasons I didn’t kill myself were my two children, and they weren’t even enough reason because I was killing myself slowly.
I’d tried everything. I went to rehabs, was in therapy for six years — three, four, sometimes five days a week — because I’d retired in my early forties and I just couldn’t —
You retired in your early forties?
Yeah. I had sold a company for about ninety million bucks, and that allowed me to do whatever I wanted to do. So, I ended up going to therapy and drinking a lot, which made me really unhappy. I was one of the most unhappy people I knew. Finally, at the end of my rope, I said there has to be something more for me. A friend of mine said there was something a friend of hers tried. Her friend was a guy similar to me — good in business, lost, and nothing seemed to work.
He went and did this plant medicine, and it fixed him. I thought, look, I’ve tried everything else — I’d spent about six hundred grand, and this is the truth. Three months of rehab at Passages alone was three hundred thousand dollars. I’d done counseling, retreats, everything.
I did this plant medicine and the next day I was a different guy. I thought, oh my God, I’ve found the answer to everything. God, I was so excited. I went home and took my son — he was 22 at the time, smoking an eighth of weed a day — and brought him to do the medicine. He did it and immediately stopped smoking weed. His life got better and he got his finances in order. I watch this miracle happen to people.
Which medicine was that?
First iboga, then ayahuasca.
At Rythmia, I get to see people when they check in and when they check out. There’s nothing that people could do that has a bigger impact on their life. Now, I don’t know about doing it in someone’s basement, but when you’re in an environment where the intention is clear and you have support, God, the changes that occur in people’s lives! Eight out of ten people cry when they leave here because of what happened to them. Miracles happen every single day. People get back to who they really are every single day here. It’s just crazy.
When did you first get the idea for Rythmia?
I got the idea in July of 2014, when I came down to Costa Rica and did plant medicine myself. By September I had already found this place and was negotiating for the purchase of it. I bought it in December, 2014, and we just got licensed this past February, so we’ve only been open a couple of months with the license.
It’s wonderful to know that there’s a place that makes these powerful healing experiences available in a way that I think a lot of people need. From my own visit to Rythmia, I could see that it’s being held with a great deal of heart, sincerity, intention, and intelligence.
I was so happy to see you at ease and enjoy yourself like you did. When I saw your reaction, that’s what sold me. I thought oh hey, I must be on the right path here, because you’re a tough egg! (laughs)
Evolver is partnering with Rythmia to present transformational thought leaders at the center. Please look for announcements about upcoming events on the Reality Sandwich Facebook page.