Warming the body with mindfulness and a hot cup of cacao can fill people with unconditional love, comfort, gentle energy and health benefits, says the facilitator of a local ceremony. These ceremonies invite individuals to explore and embrace the deepest truths of who they are through the healing powers of cacao.
Seeing the cacao ceremonies listed in the Source Weekly calendar had me wanting to check it out. Working as a journalist, trying to keep up with house chores, maintaining a workout routine, keeping up socially and constantly trying to check things off my list leaves me with little time to schedule in stillness, so I wanted to experience the meditative ceremony for myself. Dr. Michelle Ericksen invited me to a healing ceremony during the first week of January. I wasn't sure what to expect. I have had hot chocolate, but never experienced the authentic, raw, vulnerable form of cacao as a hot drink.
Ericksen is a medicine woman, teacher, researcher and coach. With a graduate degree in education from Stanford, a Ph.D. from the University of Oregon and years of experience in ritual work, her background in academia is interconnected with current work in healing practices.
"Almost all of us have a relationship with chocolate," Ericksen said. "The experience here is quite different. It's in a ceremonial context."
"Cacao, both in a ceremonial use, and in a meditative, personal use, has a lot of health benefits to start out with," Ericksen said. Research has shown cacao's health benefits, including "a lower risk of heart disease and diabetes, preventing blood clots, improving memory, lowering cholesterol and even preventing some types of cancer," according to a publication from Mayo Clinic Health Systems. Cacao is rich in magnesium, iron, calcium, flavanol and antioxidants, making its name as a superfood.
It goes beyond health, organizers say. "It allows us a medical and a sacred pause," Ericksen said. "It allows us to go into these deeper parts of ourselves and invite in this very loving, healing energy to work with us."
The group ceremony began with an introduction—information on the sourcing of cacao, the healing powers of the drink and the intention of the practice. We were seated in a circle—some sitting on the couch, others on chairs, people sitting cross-legged on the ground with blankets.
From there we went into a short mediation while Ericksen prepared the cacao. She gave a mug to each person, inviting us to smell the aromas, feel the warmth of the drink and simply notice the presence of the cacao in our hands. With our eyes closed and our bodies still, Ericksen invited us to take our first sip of cacao.
It lit up yet soothed my eager tastebuds. Cacao was at the forefront, but the additions of cayenne, cinnamon and coconut sugar added touches of sweet and spicy. Even the water added an element of intention. Ericksen collected the water from a fresh water source at Lake Tahoe, boiled it and used it as the base of our sipping cacao, she said.
For about half an hour, the group sipped with closed eyes, mediation music playing and tree pitch burning in the background. Ericksen invited the group to blow intentions into our drink to cool it and connect with it, on the exhale. On the inhale, we sipped in the cacao and pulled the intention into our bodies. During the ceremony, I felt calm and in-the-zone. The 30 minutes flew by and when we opened our eyes, I felt grounded, cozy and restored.
"Cacao is such a gentle invitation," Ericksen said. "This is an expression of unconditional love that is really rare."
During cacao ceremonies, everyone will have their own experience, but the goal is to focus on presence, gratitude and intention. Meditation is a practice with valuable benefits, healing the wellbeing of the mind and ridding it of distraction.
Ericksen holds cacao ceremonies every month in Redmond.