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  • Writer's pictureIsabel Santis

How I started doing this work

Hello, and thank you for visiting my website.

I often get asked by folks how I got started doing this work, so let me tell you my story.

I am originally from Guatemala, where my family roots include the original Mayan people and European settlers. I was raised in a very conservative household that valued responsibility, propriety, and achievement, among a society that valued traditional roles for women, conservatism, and economic success. From an early age, I found myself feeling like an outsider. My values, interests, and desires often ran counter to those of my peers, and I felt deeply constrained by my environment. So at the age of 20, I moved to the San Francisco, CA, where, for the first time, I had the opportunity to discover who I was without all these limits and expectations of who I should be. And while it was liberating to discover what I liked, what I though of things, and what I desired, it was difficult for me to figure out who I wanted to be. I still didn't feel I had permission to be someone different from the norms I had grown up with.

When I was 25, I had a dream that literally changed my life. I dreamt that I was at a party in a large conservatory, but I didn't want to be there. I went out into the terrace, and from there to a wildish patch of garden I could se in the distance. When I arrived in the garden, I was met by a guardian who told me the path ahead was difficult, but I could pursue it if I had the courage. I began following a path that was covered in serpents, but I was not afraid. I was close to the ocean, and I could hear its roar and feel the spray on my skin. Eventually, the path became impassable, and I fell into the deep waters. I woke up shaking, covered in sweat. I could still smell the salt air and feel the shock of the cold water on my skin.

When I woke up from the dream, my heart knew that what I had experienced was real. My body also knew that what I was experienced was real. But my mind had no context for an experience like this. For the next three days, I was in a highly agitated state, wondering if I was going crazy, and oscillating between denial, obsessive thoughts, and the verge of mania. Eventually, I went to the Jung Institute and met with the librarian, who pulled a bunch of books for me to read to help me make sense of my experience. That is when I first learned about Expanded States of Consciousness, and that the distress, confusion and cognitive dissonance I felt in my waking state was called a Spiritual Emergency.

The dream opened up for me new ways of thinking and exploring the possibilities the world held for me. I felt as if I had been given a map, and if I followed the instructions, good things would happen. I have used this map as a guide ever since. Whenever I have a difficult decision to make, I consult the map to see where that might fall in my path. If I follow my intuition, the outcome is usually beyond my expectations. If I make a different decision, eventually I find myself back on the path, after a more or less successful detour. Over the years, I have discovered additional meaning to the dream, and things that were not important when I was 25 are incredibly useful guidance in my 50s. I don't know where these instructions came from, but I am thankful to have received such an amazing gift to help me on my path.

The experience also catalyzed a life-long love affair with depth-psychology, and a passion for exploring expanded states. I wanted to be able to enter into this alternate reality at will, so I learned to practice Holotropic Breathwork and Shamanic Dreaming. Little by little, I gained skill in navigating these expanded states, and learned deep truths about myself in the process. I had started working with psychedelics intentionally in 2005, and I discovered that my personal growth and healing were deeply supported by these amazing allies. Somehow, I kept on finding myself holding space for people who were having a difficult experience, so I got trained to hold space in the Zendo. But it wasn't until 2014, after an intense 8-hour experience supporting someone at Burning Man, that I considered dedicating myself to this work as a career.

A few years later, after a series of amazing synchronicities, I applied and got accepted into the East-West Psychology Doctoral program at CIIS. I had the opportunity to learn from many experienced and generous teachers, and continue my own study of expanded states of consciousness. I also continued my education and practical learning outside of the halls of academia, developing new skills in and knowledge through personal research, apprenticeship, and direct transmission. Now, I am working on my dissertation investigating the effect of psilocybin mushrooms on people's experience of eco-anxiety and existential distress. I also opened up my coaching practice, supporting people who are working with psychedelics with preparation, integration, education, and harm reduction.

For me, this work is a calling and a vocation. I have experienced deep transformation and profound healing through this work, and I am deeply thankful to these sacred medicines for their teachings. Perhaps one of the most surprising changes in my life has been the development of a deeply grounded earth-honoring spirituality, based on an indescribable sense of connection with universal consciousness. I arrived to this spirituality by means of my own lived experiences, not through writings in a book. I feel that in these troubled times, psychedelic medicines provide an opportunity for helping us heal the deep wounds within ourselves, which in turn, allow us to bring our gifts to the world more fully. I consider my work an offering towards this effort. It is an honor and privilege to support my clients in their own process of transformation.

If you would like to hear more about my story and the work I do, you can listen to this interview by Yannick Jacob in the Coaching and Psychedelics Podcast.

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