Darnell Lamont Walker leading Rituals Writing Workshop
For the Love of Chocolate
Photo by Ananda Yogiji

Whether in a heart-shaped box or a steaming mug, chocolate is a universal pleasure. But beyond its pure deliciousness, cacao is packed with mood-enhancing compounds including serotonin, dopamine and other neurochemicals. It also has been used ceremonially for millennia. Are you ready to shift your perspective and open your mind to the spirit of cacao? In their upcoming workshop, Ananda Yogiji and Jaya Lakshmi will help you do just that. We recently spoke with Ananda to find out more.

Esalen News: Ritual and ceremony are integral aspects of your upcoming workshop. Why are these important today?

Ananda: The reality is we all have rituals we take part in every day; the question is whether we are conscious of them or not. Intentional ritual brings a sense of connection — honoring one’s self, community and the planet — in an ancient and mystical way. Engaging in ritual often feels like coming home, refreshes us and hopefully brings more heart and soul into our daily lives.

Esalen News: Why chocolate?

Ananda: The Olmec, Maya and Aztec cultures used cacao ceremonially in the Americas going back more than 4,000 years. Pure cacao was so valued it was also used as a form of currency. The energetic and medicinal qualities of cacao are profound: it is one, if not the, most complex natural foods with more than 700 compounds, and it bonds with and assimilates other foods or medicines and makes them more bioavailable.

Today, most cacao is hybridized to facilitate mass plantations across the globe. On the other hand, pure criollo (native) cacao is prized for its purity, taste and potency. In particular, the cacao we use is selected, prepared and packaged for ceremony. It is hand-peeled by Mayan indigenous people to ensure the best beans that also are free from molds and other contaminants.  

Esalen News: How did you come to be leading cacao ceremonies?

Ananda: My mother is half Guatemalan, so I grew up going to Guatemala every three to four years. In 2008, I journeyed there on a soul quest. While there, I came across a cacao shaman and the cacao he offered. It was life changing to say the least. I went on to connect with another shaman at Lake Atitlán who shared his way of holding cacao ceremonies and how to connect with the spirit of cacao. After I returned to the States, I began to share ceremonial space with this special cacao I brought back from Guatemala.  

When Jaya Lakshmi and I met, I shared with her the cacao and ceremony, and she brought in elements of the Native American tipi ceremony that she had been a part of. Together we co-created our cacao ceremony.  

Esalen News: Can you share a mini-ritual that people can do right now, wherever they are, to connect with the spirit of cacao?

Ananda: Yes. Here’s what to do:

  • First, create an altar for the cacao. This can be as simple as spreading a clean cloth on a table, or creating something more elaborate using a candle and objects meaningful to you.
  • Place the cacao on the altar. We recommend a pure, raw cacao in solid, liquid or paste form.
  • Pause for a few breaths and set an intention for communing with the spirit of cacao.
  • Make an offering (flower, incense, music…whatever feels right to you).
  • Partake of the cacao, and meditate on the sensations, feelings and energy of the experience. See what wants to emerge.
  • Then close the ceremony with gratitude.

Here’s a sneak peek of cacao ceremony with Ananda and Jaya.

Learn more about Exploring Ceremony, Ritual and Sacred Space with the Spirit of Cacao.

Photo by Ananda Yogiji

“Remembering to be as self compassionate as I can and praying to the divine that we're all a part of.” 

“Prayer, reading, meditation, walking.”
“Erratically — which is an ongoing stream of practice to find peace.”
“Try on a daily basis to be kind to myself and to realize that making mistakes is a part of the human condition. Learning from our mistakes is a journey. But it starts with compassion and caring. First for oneself.”

“Physically: aerobic exercise, volleyball, ice hockey, cycling, sailing. Emotionally: unfortunately I have to work to ‘not care’ about people or situations which may end painfully. Along the lines of ‘attachment is the source of suffering’, so best to avoid it or limit its scope. Sad though because it could also be the source of great joy. Is it worth the risk?“

“It's time for my heart to be nurtured on one level yet contained on another. To go easy on me and to allow my feelings to be validated, not judged harshly. On the other hand, to let the heart rule with equanimity and not lead the mind and body around like a master.”

“I spend time thinking of everything I am grateful for, and I try to develop my ability to express compassion for myself and others without reservation. I take time to do the things I need to do to keep myself healthy and happy. This includes taking experiential workshops, fostering relationships, and participating within groups which have a similar interest to become a more compassionate and fulfilled being.“

“Self-forgiveness for my own judgments. And oh yeah, coming to Esalen.”
–David B.

“Hmm, this is a tough one! I guess I take care of my heart through fostering relationships with people I feel connected to. Spending quality time with them (whether we're on the phone, through messages/letters, on Zoom, or in-person). Being there for them, listening to them, sharing what's going on with me, my struggles and my successes... like we do in the Esalen weekly Friends of Esalen Zoom sessions!”

“I remind myself in many ways of the fact that " Love is all there is!" LOVE is the prize and this one precious life is the stage we get to learn our lessons. I get out into nature, hike, camp, river kayak, fly fish, garden, I create, I dance (not enough!), and I remain grateful for each day, each breath, each moment. Being in the moment, awake, and remembering the gift of life and my feeling of gratitude for all of creation.”
“My physical heart by limiting stress and eating a heart-healthy diet. My emotional heart by staying in love with the world and by knowing that all disappointment and loss will pass.“
–David Z.

Today, September 29, is World Heart Day. Strike up a conversation with your own heart and as you feel comfortable, encourage others to do the same. As part of our own transformations and self-care, we sometimes ask for others to illuminate and enliven our hearts or speak our love language.

What if we could do this for ourselves too, even if just for today… or to start a heart practice, forever?


Esalen Team