Human Design & Plant Medicine

Human Design

Article by John Cole of

Human Design and Ayahuasca entered into my life at roughly the same time. I had previously spent around two decades exploring various astrological systems and Eastern traditions including a significant awakening event at the age of 28 working with the teachings of G.I. Gurdjieff. While all of these experiences contributed to a greater awareness of myself and the world we live in, by the time I reached my 40s it seemed like I had come to something of a plateau. I had a sense that something more was possible in terms of living my life more fully, but I wasn’t sure what that looked like or where to go from there.

In early 2015, I was introduced to Human Design by an astrologer friend of mine. My first reaction to seeing the system was “oh, no not another system”, as I felt like I already had enough to work with in astrology and the other teachings I’d been exploring. Yet, finding out that my Human Design type was a Projector and beginning to understand what that meant was a major wake-up call for me. It was like a missing puzzle piece that brought together and explained many aspects of my life and experience including a period of significant burnout years earlier.

Months later, I was invited to participate in my first Ayahuasca retreat. Without going into all of the details around that experience, those first few Ayahuasca ceremonies served as a catalyst for moving into a much deeper relationship with myself and an opening to new dimensions of experience in this construct we call reality. In many ways, it felt like I had been moving towards this time for most of my life, and a new pathway has been presented to integrate and heal various aspects of myself on a deeper level.

Before and throughout that initial experience with Ayahuasca, Human Design was present in the background. I was still quite new to the system, but it had already begun to shift my orientation to life and make a difference in my daily experience. I felt like these two modalities were somehow related, but wasn’t sure what that meant and lacked a larger perspective on the process I had entered into.


It was about six months later, during another retreat when I experienced another significant shift in my understanding of how these seemingly different tools might work together. In one particular ceremony, a vision of my personal BodyGraph came to me very clearly in the medicine space. As I experienced it, the medicine appeared to be asking me to really take in the image of my Human Design BodyGraph. The spirit of the medicine ‘said’ that this image was a visual representation of who I am as an energetic being and that I needed to get a clear sense of what it means to be energetically clean and grounded in my own frequency.

I saw how I had not been doing a good job of managing and maintaining my own energy and was unconsciously carrying around the energies from others and my environment. It then began to show me what it felt like to be ‘clean’ in my own frequency in a very direct experiential way. Lying there on my mat, I felt the energy from the room build up in my body and eventually the need to clear it. To do so, I made several trips to the bathroom where I would burp and release a lot of this energy. Each time I went through this process I would feel a little cleaner, but walking back into the room I could distinctly feel the energy come back into my body.

Over the course of the evening, as the energy in the room began to clear and become less dense, I went through a couple more cycles of this process until the medicine said: “this is what clean feels like”. It told me to make note of this feeling as a point of reference so that I could better manage it myself going forward. It finished by saying that no one else could do this for me and that I needed to develop regular energetic cleaning and maintenance practices.


As I continued to work with Ayahuasca, I was also going deeper into Human Design and began a formal education process, while continuing to explore and experiment with the knowledge on a daily basis. I soon found myself in an intense and accelerated process of self-discovery while beginning to see and let go of many of the unnecessary and unhealthy thoughts, patterns, and habits that I had been carrying with me for years. Now, around six years into this process, I’m starting to feel like I have a better sense of the larger picture and how Human Design and plant medicine can work together.

In Human Design, the concept of ‘true-self’ is described as the differentiated personal identity expressing its uniqueness within the greater whole. This is our natural intelligence and awareness expressing itself through a particular role and purpose in the midst of the ‘conditioning’ and influences coming in from others and our environment. It is generally represented in our BodyGraph as the healthy functioning of our ‘definition’ as well as the awareness and wisdom of our openness through the role and purpose of the Profile and Incarnation Cross. The defined centers, channels, and gates show our particular life-force and frequency – what is consistent and reliable in our experience, which is uniquely equipped to process and interact with our environment.

In contrast, the ‘not-self’ is the persona that we build up over years of conditioning, consisting of patterns and habits that take us away from our authentic self-expression and purpose in life. This persona and its coping strategies may have served us at some point in our experience and development but is not who we are at a deeper level. In Human Design, these not-self tendencies can primarily be seen from what is ‘open’ in our chart when the mind makes decisions from the undefined characteristics.


In Human Design, following one’s Strategy and Authority is a means of aligning one’s form (body) with its proper function and place in the world while facilitating a process of deconditioning from the mind. By recognizing and acting from what is natural and correct for us, we begin to peel back the layers of conditioning and move into greater alignment with our true nature.

In my experience, working with plant medicines like Ayahuasca can facilitate a similar process, but in some different ways. Working with Ayahuasca can be a very physical experience for most people. It often seems to work on the body first, by releasing energy blockages and healing (and sometimes re-living) past trauma. Once the physical healing is underway, one can also receive visions, realizations, and gain greater awareness of the patterns in one’s life. Through this process, one has the potential to open up to a more true and expanded view of oneself and the world.

Interestingly, many people seem to begin experiencing these shifts and changes as soon as they’ve made the commitment to work with the medicine. It is not uncommon for people to experience bodily sensations like nausea, gastro-intestinal movement, or have unusual dreams and meditations days before drinking the medicine. Once in ceremony, after actually ingesting the medicine, the bodily sensations can be quite intense – ranging from energetic fluctuations to full-on nausea resulting in physical purging.

Many people also experience Ayahuasca as having its own sense of intelligence – like there is an awareness in the spirit of the medicine which has its own way of working or agenda. Is this increased awareness and seeing a product of our own minds breaking through assumptions, preconceptions, and fixed mental patterns or are we in touch with a presence and intelligence beyond the human mind? I don’t know for sure, but it feels to me like having a relationship with the plant spirits themselves.


What has been most consistent in my experiences with Ayahuasca has been a frequency of love and healing. A vibration of energy is felt palpably in my body, as it cleans and releases more dense patterns of energy. However, this process is not always experienced as light and easy. It can actually be quite uncomfortable at times, bringing up darker and often suppressed and ignored parts of ourselves to the surface. We then get to see and re-experience these energies as they become acknowledged and released.

Some seem to mistake these difficult experiences as Ayahuasca itself, but I do not think that is the case. What I’ve observed and experienced is that the medicine is introducing a higher vibrational current into our system which appears to dislodge or move the lower frequency parts of ourselves that are not aligned with our highest potential. The result is an accelerated deconditioning and cleaning process on a physical, emotional, and energetic level.

There’s a popular saying in communities who work with Ayahuasca, “ten years of therapy in one night”. Based on my experience, there is something to this. During my first retreat and time working with the medicine, I began to see how emotionally blocked and restricted I had been most of my life. A pattern that started in childhood and was reinforced as I experienced the bumps and bruises of life. I saw how limited my range of emotional feelings was and how it was preventing me from entering into a deeper relationship with myself and others. Not surprisingly, this coincides with the not-self strategy of the open Solar Plexus which is a feature of my Human Design BodyGraph.

The Solar Plexus center represents one’s emotions, feelings, and moods along with the waves of pleasure and pain, happiness and sadness. When it’s open in one’s design, there is the tendency to avoid confrontation and truth as a means of “protecting” oneself from what can feel like intense or overwhelming emotional exchanges with others. While this approach may seem to serve us in specific situations, it also limits the depth and richness of the human experience and can be a way that we remain stuck in a false or limited expression of self.


Up until now, I have been writing about my experience with Ayahuasca, but there is another plant medicine that deserves no less mention. This is the West African plant called Iboga. While Iboga is equally powerful as a healing and deconditioning tool, it is a unique plant spirit that works in different ways. Where Ayahuasca appears to predominantly work on the body, heart, and emotions, Iboga as a medicine is unparalleled in its capacity to heal and bring us into a better relationship with our mind. How exactly Iboga does this is probably better answered by those in the neurological sciences. But speaking from my personal experience, Iboga starts by shutting down the neuro-motor system and turning one’s attention and experience inward. The body feels heavy and lethargic, not wanting to move or do anything. And soon the medicine starts working on the mind itself.

While everyone’s experience on these medicines can be highly unique, there are some consistently reported patterns. It’s not uncommon for those working with Iboga to see what appear to be scenes, images, and visions playing out in the dark of their closed-eye headspace. Many of these visions seem random, including faces or people one may remember or not – and for moments it can feel like you’re actually living in the movie contained in your own head. For me, this was the most disconcerting part of my first Iboga experience. My mind felt out of control, erratic, and all over the place. All I could do was relax and surrender to the experience, watching these seemingly random and fast-moving scenes being played out in my mind.


Like the Amazonian healing songs called Icaros in the Ayahuasca traditions, the African Bwiti tradition that I was working in also had similar healing songs. As it’s told, these were songs and sounds that were transmitted to the initiates by the medicine itself. Throughout the entire Iboga ceremony, the Bwiti tribal music was playing and I had the distinct experience of the sounds and vibrations in my head like little workers chiseling and scraping away unneeded and outdated thought constructs.

It was as if Iboga was doing a mental defragmentation and cleaning all at once. Eventually, my mind began to clear and quieten. It felt like it had been purged of all sorts of old and useless mental content: memories of people that I may have seen on the streets, past events, and random thought fragments. My head was so empty that I was actually concerned that I wouldn’t be able to remember important things like friends’ names and whatever software framework I was working on at my day job. Thankfully, all of the important stuff was still there and I have been able to recall and access memories and associations going forward as needed.

The Iboga experience also seemed to orient and center me in the present moment like nothing else I’ve experienced. Or put another way, it brought me back to the importance and primacy of my direct experience. I saw how the mind is often like an overlay, filtering my perception and experience of the world. Iboga, like the root part of the plant that is harvested, appears to ground one in the body, in nature, and direct experience with a clear and single-minded focus. It can show you how busy and crazy the mind can be when we let it run and try to direct our lives – and how staying in the flow of the moment and accepting reality on its own terms is often a path of less resistance.

Having these sorts of experiences during a plant medicine ceremony is one thing, and integrating them into your daily life is another. That’s why all good plant medicine providers include integration guidance and support into their work. These medicines can show us what is possible and even do some of the work for us, but eventually, we must return to our daily lives, relationships, jobs, traffic, and so on.

For me, this is where Human Design comes back in and offers us something highly unique. Do we go back to our old patterns of behavior and adaptive strategies for dealing with ourselves and others or do we ground in something that is more reliable and aligned with who we are? Our design shows us what we are and how we can best move through life in a way that is correct for ourselves. It also shows us where we will tend to be most influenced and conditioned by others and the larger construct. It essentially gives us a personal operator’s manual or schematic for living as ourselves and our unique purpose in life.

Plant medicines like Ayahuasca and Iboga can be powerful tools for facilitating and supporting deconditioning, possibly accelerating and expediting parts of the process. But it’s important to mention that working with strong psychedelics isn’t for everyone and that much of my experience is probably unique to me and my particular design. Choosing to work with plant medicines and psychedelics is an individual matter and is best entered into by following our inner sense of what is correct for us.

In my experience, the same thing can be said for Human Design as a radical path of awakening. If you choose to experiment with Human Design or plant medicines, things can and often do shift significantly in one’s life. So there’s little benefit to pushing someone into or convincing them to undertake these kinds of experiences if they are not personally called to this kind of work and ready to embrace dynamic change. There are many paths and ways to decondition, and from a Human Design standpoint, it all comes back to following one’s strategy and making decisions with one’s unique authority in terms of what is ultimately correct for you.

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