Learning How to Love Chocolate

I have a confession to make: I don’t really like chocolate. This single taste preference has excluded me from many crucial bonding moments with other females. I’ve never devoured away my pain in a pint of chocolate ice cream or bought a chocolate bar when it’s that time of the month. I’ve never spontaneously bought a chocolate bar in the grocery store line or willingly chose chocolate cake at a birthday party. When I’ve received chocolate for various holidays, I’ve always given it away.

I’ve felt like this about chocolate for as long as I can remember. So when people have offered me some, I’ve politely declined. But recently I’ve learned that chocolate isn’t just one set thing. Chocolate comes in all different shapes and sizes. I’ve learned that even though I don’t like chocolate, I love cacao.

Cacao, chocolate before it’s processed, originates in Latin America. In its purest form chocolate is not sweet; it’s bitter. In the United States and Europe chocolate is inundated with milk and sugar, and most often, the ceremonial aspect of cacao is forgotten about. Until I went to Central America I had no idea that people used cacao as a plant-based medicine in ceremonies. Until I went to Central America I had no idea that chocolate is a plant, that chocolate grows on trees.

Those yellow pods are where chocolate comes from!

First we have these yellow pods…

A cacao pod opened. These are the beans that turn into chocolate.

Then we open them…

And we get cacao beans!

And we get cacao beans which are used to make chocolate bars!

On my second full day at the Mystical Yoga Farm (a spiritual community in Guatemala where I lived for the winter) I participated in a cacao ceremony with the yoga teacher trainees and the other Karma Yogi’s (volunteers). A month later I participated in a cacao ceremony with seven of the Karma Yogi’s. Both ceremonies were beautiful and insightful for different reasons.

Keith, the ‘cacao shaman’, and his partner Barbara led us through the ceremonies. Both ceremonies lasted around five hours. Keith is well-known around Lake Atitlan and frequently leads cacao ceremonies in San Marcos. He’s a North American expat who has spent years traveling the world searching for the best cacao. For more information about Keith and his ceremonies check out his website.

The Cacao Shaman stirs the pot

The Cacao Shaman stirs the pot

In its purest form cacao comes in beans. In Guatemala cacao beans are roasted the same way indigenous people have been roasting them for thousands of years.

For the ceremonies Keith and Barbara boiled chunks of cacao in water to create a drink.

In the United States this drink would be similar to a hot chocolate but with unprocessed cacao. Each person drank 1.5 ounces of cacao. Since cacao is very bitter there were options to add honey, cinnamon and panella (cane sugar). There was also cayenne powder and chili sauce, which speed up the interaction of the chocolate into your blood stream. During both ceremonies I added a little bit of everything and drank the drink slowly, taking breaks at first and then at some point just finishing it all in one gulp.

“This is the most energy intense chocolate in the world,” Keith said. He said pure chocolate releases bliss chemicals in your brain. He told us stories of traveling to different tribes in Panama and Peru and his interactions with different cacao shamans.

Between stories of his travels he’d say things like, “This kind of chocolate is the best creative facilitator I know,” and then, “This cacao is going to help you connect to whatever you need to from the inside. But chocolate is a partner, not a leader. It brings the door, but it doesn’t push you through it.” Keith said people all over the world use his chocolate for things such as writing, painting, creating art, and dancing.

The ceremonies were held in the yoga studio in Jaguar Hall. The room has hardwood floors and floor to ceiling glass windows with a view of volcanoes and Lake Atitlan.

The view from Jaguar Hall

The view from Jaguar Hall

The inside of Jaguar Hall

The inside of Jaguar Hall, not a bad place for a cacao ceremony

In both ceremonies Keith talked about the pain we hold from childhood.

“You fill up with pain during childhood to learn how to deal with things,” Keith said. “Without something wrong with you, you wouldn’t have study material.” He quoted a lot of Eckhart Tolle and spoke of the pain body.

At the first ceremony Keith lead us through some meditations. I was able to vividly engage and connect into Keith’s meditations. The first mediation was about the feminine. Up until then I was feeling good, happy and playful. I could feel the buzz of excitement running through me.

Here I am sinking into the meditations at the cacao ceremony

Here I am letting the cacao work its magic

We closed our eyes and invited our feminine spirit into a room. My feminine spirit danced right in in all her beautiful glory. She had long flowing hair, bright green glowing eyes, long eyelashes, beaded necklaces, a bindhi on her third eye—it was an older version of me. I felt her as strong, sweet, loving, affectionate, caring, embracing, feisty, sassy when need be, playful, dancing, always dancing.

Next we invited our masculine spirit into the room with the feminine spirit. My masculine spirit was solid, built of strength, competitive, dribbling a basketball, and setting up a tent.

Before long my feminine and masculine spirits joined hands, danced around in circles, and started falling in love like teenagers, laughing wildly. I felt them helping each other as partners. Falling in love yet recognizing restrictions: learning how to let go of control and perfectionism and trust that everything is happening as it should, trusting in the divine.

Keith led us through a few other visual meditations that I really connected with. During the first ceremony I was able to find clarity about my most recent romantic relationship.

After the first ceremony I drank cacao often at the Farm. I’d stumble into the kitchen around 5 a.m. still wiping sleep from my eyes and one of the lovely Karma Yogi’s would hand me a cup of divine cacao. I’d start my day with full power from chocolate. The lovely Karma Yogi’s would frequently make bliss balls, treats made with cacao and a combination of nuts and other superfoods.

Once I bought twenty bliss balls from my friends at Love Probiotics, a fermentation company based out of San Marcos. I started feeling energized from this pure chocolate. I started feeling my heart open more and more. I was also living at a spiritual community where we practiced heart mediation and open communication every day so that probably also had something to do with it. But I realized that the chocolate was helping. I realized that maybe I shouldn’t overlook chocolate so much.

The second cacao ceremony was a complete heart-opener. Read how chocolate opened my heart in Part 2 of this story here.

How to make a drink out of cacao:

Start with one block, equivalent to one pound, of cacao:

This is the cacao that's used for cooking. Start with one block and cut about 1.5 ounces per person. I usually eye ball how much I cut off.

This is the cacao that’s used for cooking.

Cut off about 1.5 ounces per person. I usually eye ball how much I cut off.

Add cacao and water to a pot. Boil and then turn to low.

Chocolate becoming a ceremonial drink.

Chocolate becoming a ceremonial drink. Notice the heart that’s taking shape: Chocolate equating to love.

Then add whatever your heart desires. I like to add almond milk and honey.

Fall in love. Dance. Write. Create. Let the cacao magic do it’s work.

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