The lighting designer Lindsey Adelman knows how to throw a classic dinner party — the kind with cocktails and good conversation — but as a host, she says, she gravitates toward formats that offer her guests “bliss in an unconventional way.” Accordingly, she’s organized figure-drawing sessions, sound baths and, most recently, a two-hour cacao ceremony. For this latest event, she invited six women to her Lower Manhattan showroom, where they spent their time together immersed in meditative rituals that included holotropic breathwork, a healing technique developed in the 1970s that involves rapid and controlled breathing. If hosting is an expression of generosity, Adelman seemed to ask, how could she offer a gift more profound and less expected than a canapé?
For Adelman, who founded her namesake studio in 2006, rituals of all kinds are a way to access the porous state of mind in which she says her best creative work occurs. Earlier this year, during Milan Design Week, she launched LaLAB, a platform for one-of-a kind commissions such as delicate bricolage mobiles, geometric brass chandeliers and fantastical mineral-and-glass table lamps that look like habitats for magical creatures. The idea came to her during a silent-meditation retreat.
A few hours before the cacao ceremony began, Adelman knelt beside a low wooden platform, arranging feathers, shells and vases of ranunculus into an altar. When they arrived, her guests — all women (“I didn’t overthink that one,” she says) and all employed in creative fields — sat around it on floor chairs. Swaying gently above the altar was a large LaLAB mobile composed of a lit oil lamp, chunks of quartz and amethyst and electrical glass bulbs draped with knitted chains or wrapped in leather. Though the elements were connected by metal rods and wire, they appeared instead to be floating.
According to the plant-medicine doctrine of Central and South America, consuming cacao helps a person connect with their heart. That evening, the ceremony was led by Sara Ramírez Loaiza, 32, who is Indigenous Colombian and a partner at the Brooklyn wellness space Gaia NoMaya. As the rest of the group sat, mostly in silence, Loaiza sang and chanted; poured out cups of cacao; led a three-part breathwork session; and, at the end of the night, mediated a discussion about what the women had just experienced that elicited surprisingly vulnerable responses from each guest. “I felt like my individuality was dissolving,” said Adelman. “But it was relaxing.”
The attendees: Adelman, 55, invited a group of close, longtime friends to ensure an intimate feel. Around the circle sat the glass artist Michiko Sakano, 52; the designer Keira Alexandra, 55; the architect and interior designer Poonam Khanna, 57; the artist Maria Moyer, 58; the documentary film producer Stacey Reiss, 53; and Danielle Martinelli, 45, the managing director of Adelman’s studio. “I would describe them all as givers,” said Adelman, “and this felt like a way of saying thanks for all that giving.”
The décor: Adelman’s altar, set atop vintage Moroccan rugs, was made from two wooden boxes dyed black with India ink and constructed by the design firm Happy Medium. On top of it, fanning out from two handblown glass oil lamps and the vases of ranunculus, were feathers, shells and dried coral she’d collected from the beaches of Long Island as well as small ceramic and bronze bowls and art objects, some of which she’d designed and others she’d picked up on her travels. To complete the altar, she asked each guest to contribute an item that was meaningful to them. One brought a smooth pebble, another the tip of a sugar cone.
The drink: Roughly midway through the ceremony, each guest drank a mixture of raw cacao and water from one of a series of conical white ceramic cups that Adelman had made herself specially for the evening. The cacao was a pre-Columbian strain native to Ecuador called Arriba Nacional, and Loaiza had spent months preparing it; she sang to it, she said, to boost its medicinal powers. Cacao, like ayahuasca, is considered a plant medicine, with gentle, non-hallucinatory and “spiritually harmonizing effects,” Loaiza said. The taste was herby and earthy, with bright notes of tropical fruit.
The food: “No food,” said Adelman. For cacao ceremonies, the recommendation is to arrive on an empty stomach.
The music: The guests enjoyed music produced by Loaiza and her artistic partner, Jeffery Conners, 37. On a laptop, the duo mixed instrumentals from a guitar, drum and rattle to create looping, trancelike songs punctuated by rainforest sounds, such as wind rustling through trees and the sharp caw of a bird. Some of the accompanying lyrics were written by Loaiza, but many were interpretations of ikaros, Indigenous South and Central American shamanic chants that are traditionally performed during plant-medicine ceremonies.
The conversation: When Adelman’s guests first arrived at her showroom, they gathered in a back office, catching one another up on their work lives and, in some cases, sharing their apprehension ahead of the ceremony. Some dubiousness lingered. Loaiza kicked off the evening with the question “How have you arrived?” The responses: “Conflicted.” “Open.” “Sweaty.” But by the final step of the ritual, the women shared, they felt everything from deeply serene to too overcome to speak. “My friends revealed parts of themselves that I had not totally seen,” Adelman wrote in an email several days later. “After this experience we feel even closer to each other.”