Those of us who work in plant medicine often have a focus on spiritual development. But what does that mean exactly? Even for those who don’t work in Ceremony or apprenticeship, the process is the same (just accelerated by intent, other modalities and plant work.) Understanding these concepts on a deeper level can take meditating on a mountain to digging through the mess until we reach the depths of the soul.

Please note – there are many ways to approach this language and all should be adapted to the individual. These concepts are intentionally presented in simple, essential form. Each piece can be expanded on exponentially.

The General Premise of Spiritual Development Work

At core, spiritual development work generally aligns to the premise that our natural state is whole, bright, pure energy interconnected with all that is. The essence of the work is to de-clutter anything other than our true nature, break down walls and belief structures that filter our vision, and release trapped emotions that don’t align with our natural state. As we move through to more levels of clarity, an individual relationship to this premise will likely evolve and grow.

Many of us hold deep intention to align physically to who we truly are spiritually, and step into the role we would like to offer to humanity. Working through a physical medium to experience the growth process would not be possible without the human body (heart, mind, defenses, etc), hence the reason we are here, working on it together.

Areas of Misalignment from our Natural State

The Roots of Turmoil

Deep underneath, human suffering often is created initially by wounds and fears. As children, it doesn’t take much for an experience to lodge into the psyche during the innocent, vulnerable state. Often these spaces have been so well protected by our ego defense system, that it is inaccessible until enough work has been done to not only uncover it, but be strong enough internally to support it.

Inner Children in Need of Attention

When an unhealed wound or fear is still in tact, it can be seen in the archetypes of our “inner children” (usually corresponding to the age stage the wound or fear was created.) These inner children can also grow into inner adult archetypes and be full part of our energetic field and even perceived personality (which can be scary to release, since who will we be without them? Our actual selves.)

Following the triggers down the thread to the roots will often present the child, who will tell you what they need/want if you ask (usually it’s love, to be heard, to not be in the dungeon anymore, etc.) Give them what they want, move them to the heart chakra in a safe space to heal and grow, and basically re-parent them as needed. Intend a healing space with Medicine and unconditional love, or whatever variation feels right. Once they heal, they will realign naturally in the body and no longer need to be an archetype to get your attention.

Swallowed or Trapped Emotions

In societies where feeling emotions isn’t encouraged, the survival default is often to swallow them. They sit in the body, building gradually over time, finding ways to release when presented with similar catalysts (aka – an internal “trigger.”) Learning to recognize the difference between a current emotion vs an old, pent-up one will be extremely valuable to expedite the healing process.

The Ego Defense System

Human survival instinct to stay alive (and as communal beings, not sent off alone into the wilderness to die) as applied to emotions creates what many spiritual development approaches call the ‘ego defense system’. It basically protects us from having to feel our own deep fears and wounds so that we may function in community. It is neutral by nature, but can definitely get in the way of clarity and communion, and become complex within the applications of the mind.

Active Defense Shields

We use these to deflect a perceived threat within human interaction. They generally present in some type of verbal or physical “fight or flight” mechanism (through defensive responses, change of subject, needing to leave to use the restroom, etc.) These energetic shields are an alert that there may be a wound or fear that is being protected. Even if the thread is justified, a response from a place of clarity would look different than a reaction from defense.

Common Ego Tendencies and Archetypes

In addition to the active defense shields, often an entire system is constructed on the unconscious level, presenting in a myriad of ways (depending on the catalyst.) Getting to know our body’s tendencies (especially if so well-developed they’ve become an archetype “character”) is vital to understanding how to see what’s going on. Common tendencies include:

  • Arrogance/Blaming Out
  • Martyrdom
  • Victim Mentality (not to be confused with actual victimization)
  • People pleasing
  • Rescuer/Savior
  • Passive Aggressiveness
  • Manipulation
  • Overly “heady” or skeptical
  • Aggressive Defensiveness
  • Perfectionism/”Golden Child”
  • Control/Micromanagement
  • Aggressive Masculine or Feminine Defender Archetypes

Individual Belief Systems and Energetic Structures

When an active defense shield gets repeatedly used, it often naturally becomes a ‘belief system’, eventually hardening into an energetic structure that filters our eyes (and impacts our experience of the world significantly.) These are generally blind spots until we are willing to look to see them, or life forces us to do so.

Dynamic Structures and Patterns

Energetic structures show up everywhere, and often two or more people with complimentary structures unconsciously “link them up”, creating a new dynamic structure between those individuals. Commonly, it shows up on either the same side of the spectrum (two people commiserating and reinforcing their unhealthy beliefs about people and life) or the opposite sides (rescuer/victim, misappropriated parent/child dynamics in relationships, subconscious gender role conflicts, etc).

Collective Belief Systems

These are the large-scale belief systems taught to us (consciously or unconsciously) by our families, old religion, community, and greater society. These are often harder to see because they become so “flush” with our experience (and are usually the norm.) Going against the grain on this often triggers a visceral fear of being ostracized by the community.

Our Natural State

Pure Spirit/God

Choose your own language here. The interconnected energy that runs through everything in purest form. Darkness does not compete for light, it simply casts a shadow (and often is unconsciously given power by an individual, creating a relationship to that becomes a more palpable experience.) Note, the words “darkness” and “light” are obviously loaded. I see it energetically as “thick” and “clear”, with a natural state of light behind it all (like sun shining through the clouds), but that is a personal belief.

The Universe

The physical medium we use to experience growth (“God’s body” concept). As filters are shed, more clarity lies beyond the layers that we are usually limited in seeing.

Our Spiritual Thumbprint

The pure spirit in relationship to an individual aspect (us – imagine the interconnectedness of the ocean with focus on one particular wave.)

Channels of Receiving Information

Higher Self

The wisest aspect of our individual spirit that we can access at a given time. The little voice in the head that steers us in the right direction (generally received through epiphanies, but can be trained to be more of an open channel.) Can be clouded by ego defense system filters, fear, etc.


The gut feeling that “clicks.” The part of us that deeply “knows”. Generally felt in the stomach. Can be clouded by ego defense system filers, fear, etc.


While energy resides at the center of the smallest molecule of the Universe experience, some people can feel the experience of these energies more palpably in the body (also a natural channel that opens up as this work moves along, and can be trained.) Imagine a “bad vibe” in the room (but on much more nuanced levels.) Emotions have certain energies as well, and it’s possible to feel the energy of the emotion without actually experiencing in the heart.

Empathic Nature

“Empaths” (as used in this context) are people who experience a other people’s emotions and/or energy palpably in their body (either through the energy or the heart.) It can be quite confusing to tell whose emotions are whose. Often creates a need for the empath to function in defense mode, which can create a life experience rooted in fear. Through the process, as the body begins to strengthen from the inside out, the impact of others’ energy on the empath begins to diminish. Life experience changes drastically when skill is trained and honed.

“The Clairs”

An individuals’ natural tendency channel for receiving information (clairvoyance through vision, claircognizance through epiphany insight, clairsentiance through energy/intuition, clairaudience through spiritual audio.) All channels are in our collective blueprint, and people often utilize a combination of several. Skills can be honed, and as the process continues to remove filters, we experience more clarity as we move back towards our natural state.

Flow, Synchronicity and Themes

This is interaction with our physical world to our internal process, connected naturally by energy. The “out-picturing” of opportunities to grow, certain people that come into our lives, and a level of what often feels like “strange coincidences” that go beyond measure. This allows us to recognize and play out the process in action, often presenting as challenges, growth opportunities, or personal connections with “extra”. Watch for themes, as this can alert us as to what is presenting to be worked on.

Getting Across the Bridge

The bridge between living unconsciously behind defense systems and connecting to our true nature is what allows this work to work. There are many mediums and approaches, but ultimately the majority have a common essence of the following…


Personally, I believe our spirit does not choose this body and experience arbitrarily. That reason or intent on a larger scale becomes the “north star” that our lives follow. Coming into a human-mind intention to follow that north star eases and accelerates the process.

Free Will Planet

Aligning the body to a clear statement of willingness to embark on the process and consent to have the experience can greatly expedite the process. When the spirit holds intent, yet the body and mind are kicking and screaming, it creates internal struggle. Once willingness and consent align both physically and spiritually, it creates a growth framework for the experience to flow through more fluidly.

Natural Purging Process

Just like the body tries to rid itself of something toxic to itself, it will push against the false beliefs, and try to release the trapped emotions in order to heal. This is the body’s natural purging process, generally applied to emotions and beliefs. Working on an intentional spiritual path can accelerate this process. Working with plant medicine (specifically those that purge) accelerate it even more.

The process often requires much more time than we would prefer. There are layers upon layers, interconnected structural pieces that can only move once something else is released, spirals of depth on issues we thought we were done with, etc. This process takes as long as it takes, and the quicker we can get comfortable in it, the more efficiently it moves. Settle in.

Emotional Purging

When a space that the body is trying to release is uncovered, it opens the door to allow a bubble of trapped emotion to release (often felt on the way out – the feeling of the feelings.) This is emotional purging, and will likely happen throughout the path, in and out of ceremony. It’s a good thing.

The major difference between an emotional purge vs a current emotion is just that – one is built-up from the past and ready to blow, and the other is a natural response to a current stimuli. Recognizing a person is emotionally purging is often the hardest part (depending on the nature of the energy being released) and the most confusing (especially in reaction to a justified catalyst.)

Belief systems and energetic structures can also be released (though they tend to take much longer and are harder to see.) They happen naturally throughout the process, and are more in the ‘long-term goal’ category.

Catalysts and Ego Triggers

When progressing on this journey, the body will lead the way, aligning the energies of the process to the physical world around the individual (the “out-picture”.) One of the easiest things to spot (since it’s often felt like a shot to the emotional body) is the catalyst/trigger combination.

The “trigger” is the emotional reaction to the body when some part of the ego defense systems perceives a threat from a “catalyst”, physically or emotionally (when people get “defensive”, or any version of that.) The trigger is the responsibility of the person who has it in their body, justified or unjustified.

Being able to see what’s happening will help with clarity as to the justification level of the actions of the catalyst. It’s not about the thing, it’s about our particular relationship to the thing.

Strengthening Inside-Out

As this process unfolds, light will be shown on areas we need to train on, or strengthen a muscle (healthy communication, boundary setting, patience, self love approach, etc.) Every bit we grow and strengthen from the inside out reduces the need for the energetic protector walls (as we “outgrow” them.) Even the courageous act of allowing a deep emotional purge to happen is by nature, an act of growth and strength.

Settle Into the Journey

This process is led by the body and spirit, not with the mind. Trying to control it is not only futile, it actually slows it down since we have a very limited viewpoint with the human mind. Focus on honing the skills of learning to see it, be willing to feel it and train where needed, and let go of thinking it’s supposed to look a certain way.

It’s generally much messier than the spiritual memes imply. It takes courage and leaps of faith that this isn’t just made-up insanity. Once a person gets a couple of clear “wins” under their belt and can feel that in their body, and see it showing up in life, it becomes easier to trust it. While it’s a long journey, even the little wins can result in huge relief along the way, and it generally becomes stimulating and fascinating (and even fun if you approach it right.)

Loving Approach

It’s important to watch for the ego structures filtering the approach to spiritual work (my arrogance lead me to do the “hard way/boot camp” style in alignment with what I thought I “deserved” subconsciously.) Shifting out of that (only 10 years later) has shown me what a difference intentionally choosing a loving, gentle, fun approach can make (even if it’s ‘fake it ’til you make it’ across that bridge).

The energetic container of unconditional love that the process swims in is significantly more fluid, efficient, and more effective. Working in tandem with aligned people (partnerships or spiritual teams) can expedite the work as well, as we learn more quickly from each other’s processes and get a second set of eyes on blind spots within ourselves. Plus, life is just better with friends.


Along with approach, framing work is highly underrated, as people often believe it’s a false twist on “the truth.” But the truth has facets. A person can take ownership of past mistakes, release guilt and shame around them, and recognize that they were doing the best they had with what they knew – all in the same space. All true. If the frame isn’t large enough to hold the last part, for example, guilt and shame will keep the healing stuck in the body as a form of self-punishment.

Self-forgiveness, along with ownership, growth, and intent to make a different choice in the future, releases it from the grip of the body. Healthy framing can truly make or break the effectiveness of the work.

Big Picture Stretch

Sometimes, things do not need to be actively purged or crumbled in said format. An epiphany or clarity that expands the vision on a certain situation can release the hold immediately, once it becomes clear that there is actually nothing to forgive. Big picture stretches generally happen less often, but are amazing gifts when they do.

Tectonic Plate Shift

Larger energetic structural crumbles often result in a sense of the body being somehow changed, or shifted slightly. To me, it feels like tectonic plates simply moved into a new alignment, where the old thing that was bothering me so much simply no longer applies. The growth is often gradual and not as pronounced as this, but when looking back at past times, it’s easy to see the changed.

Barometer Checks

One way to see where we are in the process is to note barometer checks. Situations that used to trigger us may do so less and less, until eventually they don’t at all. Pay attention to what reacts in the body, and it may move from a large emotional reaction to a tiny twinge.

Keep track of what you’re learning through journals. If you’re really brave – blog. I’ve found blogging the personal process invaluable both for my vulnerability and ego work, as well as creating a space for others who are in the messy, real talk experience as well. Nothing to be ashamed of, as we’re really all in this together.


~ Meghan Shannon Elder (@beyond_meghan)

Ayahuasca Preparation and Integration Specialist at Beyond the Ceremony

Accelerated Spiritual Development Coach at Beyond the Whirlwind with Zach Link (@zachshalack)

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