I step up to the altar where Don Carlos hands me the cup. The aroma finds my nostrils and I feel my throat muscles contract in protest. I give pause for five seconds, trying to convey reverence to the four maestros sitting behind the altar. The altar is adorned with jaguar skulls, 20 candles illuminate an otherwise pitch dark room, and various wooden carvings and offerings to the great spirit. I throw back the liquid and choke it down like its Bacardi 151, and recoil for 2 seconds. It tastes like a mix of tree bark and vomit. The coffee cup-size chalice is filled to the brim. It is my fourth night in Peru and this is my second ceremony with Ayahuasca.
I make my way back to my chair, and rinse of out my mouth and spit the water into the purge bucket that I will be throwing up into, in about an hour. I feel my heart speed up in anticipation of the bodily side effects. The adrenaline in my blood is surging and feels like a mix of excitement and terror. I think of what don Howard said about a potential outcome being a “white-knuckle cosmic sleigh ride.” I smile my giddy-school-boy smile and close my eyes while I sit back in my rocking chair, waiting.
Everything is complete darkness in an ayahuasca ceremony and it is strongly recommended that you keep your eyes closed for the entirety of it.
After the 18th and final person in the circle has drank their cup, Don Howard and don Rober circle the Maloka blowing the smoke of the sacred mapacho tobacco. They are providing protective cover for the ceremonial space from harmful and toxic energies. I feel the anticipation mounting in me and the feeling of nauseousness growing as my stomach starts to absorb the medicine.
The symphony of insects and animals is turned up on full blast and becomes louder with each passing second that the medicine intensifies. The maestros blow out the last candle and we wait silently for the medicine to kick in. I start to feel pressure mounting in my stomach and my head begins to feel heavier. The insect sounds begin to bend, stretch, crunch and morph together. I hear them in a way I doubt is possible in a sober state. I hear what I think of as inter-galactic, sonic, space sounds. The medicine is slowly beginning the process of tuning my brain and heart to a channel of higher consciousness. The ayahuasca is hard at work in my body, fine tuning my machinery.
I hear the first loud wretch and then vomit splashing into the purge bucket that is filled up to three inches with water. This comes from right next to me, the 60 year-old German lady from Hawaii who is a badass spirit warrior and consistently made me feel like a pussy throughout the week. The guttural, primal sound one’s throat makes when throwing up, unsettles me while in this frantic state, the animalistic nature of it. We were being reduced to animals, just another one of God’s many creatures.
My heart rate picks up speed, Ohh shit when’s it coming for me. In the next 10 minutes, people start spouting vomit like sprinklers on a timer. I keep my eyes closed and try hard to stay calm, focusing on my breath. This will prove to be a life-saver later on. Remembering to breathe will become something I forget to do, as my figurative jaw is on the floor throughout the ceremony as I enter a universe that is surreal, yet it is more real than real.
Then I hear the soft tapping of the chakaras, it has a soothing effect on me. The Icaro’s begin. The three Maestros/shamans begin their songs that seem to intensify and defuse the overwhelming visions and emotions at different points. The shamans say “The plants taught me the songs, they taught us everything.” It is not much different than being sung a lullaby at some points. I was simply terrified and to be soothed and reminded of their presence was crucial. I would liken the shamans’ knowledge and use of Icaros, to sight reading on the piano. They deploy their arsenal of Icaros according to the energy that they feel in the room. don Howard has been working with don Rober for 12 years and says every once in a while, he still hears a new Icaro.
The second ceremony was bliss and hell for me, in the same night. It was an unfathomable, traversal of realms and of the cosmos, and at the same time, a mental and physical hell that there was no escape from. I felt all my shame, fear, self-hatred cascade over me and crush me like an avalanche, I was praying for it to end, wondering what the hell I was doing with 17 other strangers in the heart of the Amazon Jungle. I thought of Don Howard and immediately characterized him as a hippie burnout. I thought I had made a colossal mistake coming here. I tried to open my eyes and it was akin to being drunk and having the spins, the room appeared wavy, like a see-saw, everything was pitch dark. I saw the beam of the flashlight from the short Peruvian aide as she fetched another person who said “Bano” (bathroom in Spanish). This is the word we were told to use when we inevitably had violent diarrhea and needed the toilet. While on Ayahuasca, even the smallest light exposure in your field of vision (with eyes closed) will cause a lightning bolt of light to appear behind your eye lids.
The aide would lead you, holding you by the arm to the bathroom because standing up straight was very difficult. In the throes of this challenging night, what was later referred to me as “hitting the wall,” the thought occurred to me to call over don Howard. I was scared of causing a stir and rousing him out of whatever heightened spiritual state he was in. I had the distinct feeling that in some way, don Howard commanded and wielded the energies of each and every person in the room, protecting us and guiding us, wordlessly, into divine realms.
At this point in the night, I was drenched in sweat and doubled over my purge bucket, clinging to it desperately, hoping to just bring it all the toxicity out, and let it end, please. I had snot running down over my mouth and covering my chin. In between loud wretches of my esophagus, when I thought I had a 10 second break from the projectile vomiting, I mustered up the courage to say “Bano!” The first time it came out like a high-pitched squeal, because at that exact moment, a purge forced its way out of my mouth and the second time I tried was another constrained, breathless squeal, then the third, in the manliest baritone voice I had, I said “BANO!” These girly squeals gave don Rober and don Howard a good laugh, I would find out the next day . When the sweet Peruvian girl came over with her flashlight. I rattled my brain to find the words in Spanish in my disoriented state, “Necessito hablar con don Howard, por favor, ahora mismo” I said, in between squirms and shifts in my body and head as I stood ready for another purge to shoot up from my stomach like a geyser in Yellowstone National Park.
The imposing don Howard, aka “the white wizard” standing at 6’5, came over he put his hand on my shoulder in a concerned pose, lowering his head down to my level.
I grabbed his forearm, “don Howard, I had too much, you gave me too much, I’m a lonely, lonely person, I have issues you don’t know about.” I whispered, in a panic. I continued to squirm and move my head back and forth, fearing the next purge coming at any moment, and continued to clutch his arm.
“Its a test. The medicine is testing what you can handle, you need to show her that you have courage.” He whispered.
“Please don Howard, I want this to end, please tell me this won’t last the whole night, I feel trapped.” I implored.
“It won’t last the whole night, I promise you. But I can’t do this for you, you need to do this yourself.” He assured me, and gave me a pat on the back. I reached out my hand clutched his hand as hard as I possibly could, in the hope that some of his spiritual fortitude could be transferred to me.
There was a stretch of time in the beginning of the ceremony where I experienced the bonafide celestial cosmic sleigh ride that he had referred to. I was led through a universe where I understood intuitively that the indigenous people that were leading me through these realms could only comprehend the immediate now, only this very second. I felt the air come into my lungs and had the distinct feeling that each savored breath was a miracle. I felt my nose exhale and it seemed like my breath was reverberating with an intergalactic echo of some sort. Was this telling me that my words have more power than I assume, that I have more influence in the world via my mouth than I know? That each word is crucial and should be chosen wisely because my words can do great harm? That is only speculation on my part, but it gave me a lot to contemplate.
Next, I saw what looked like a technologically enhanced small fly landing on a flower patty in a pond, it appeared to be transmitting some kind of hyper-advanced messages from one lily pad to the other, yet it also appeared to be primitive. The thought occurred to me that maybe what we have been given by earth and the natural habitat 5 billion years ago, is a vastly more intelligent entity than any technology we have built through human history. That the natural world has way more intelligence and longevity, than all the technological advancements we have built. That plants are intelligent, sentient, and have worlds of knowledge that they are begging to share with us, if we would just listen to them. Ayahuasca is referred to as a “teacher plant.” The main thing it taught me is that each and every one of us, has worlds, oceans, universes, galaxies contained in our minds and hearts. I got a glimpse of what is a drop in an ocean of the infinite cosmic love of the universe. Each episode or jaunt in these mini-universes left me literally with my jaw on the floor in awe and amazement yet. I also felt as if I was holding on for dear life, in a rocket ship flying through kaleidoscopic rainbows of astounding, incomprehensible beauty. I was being shown a massive amount of intelligence that our universe and our minds contain in it and it was all just way too much to comprehend on a conscious level.
Time became like a rubber band, being distorted and bending so what felt like 5 minutes in my state may have been only 30 seconds in a normal waking state. This may be due to the fact that what scientists refer to as the “deep now.” When we have temporarily shut off the pre-frontal cortex of our brains, disables anticipation of future events and contemplation of past events, so quite literally it may have been the only time in my life where I got a taste of actually being in “the now.” It may just be as simple as that, I got a taste of what true presence and mindfulness. The loud chatter of my brain was shut off. To know that that is even possible, even for 5 or 10 seconds, gives me immense joy and hope. It also showed me how stuck I am in every day life and literally almost every second of the life of my mind is spent mulling over the past and the future, not actually living.
There were a solid 15 seconds where my libido, my entire lower body and loins were activated with this beaming energy of green light. I intuited that there was a much higher level of sexual pleasure than whatever amateur stuff I have been doing my whole life. As in, there is possible a sex that is infused with real love and spiritual connection that could be way beyond what sex is now, as a depressed and not fully conscious being. I was pleased in that moment that I remained completely abstinent for a month before the ceremonies and listened to the recommendation to preserve sexual energy. Each little jaunt in this indigenous, higher technology version of the natural world, seemed like it lasted a few hours, although it lasted maybe 20-30 seconds each. It was another world, realm, or dimension for sure, or was it just true reality and Mother Ayahuasca showing me EXACTLY what I needed to see to help me heal and become informed? Nothing more, nothing less.
I also got the sense that these indigenous people were laughing at me, although I didn’t actually see it. I got the distinct sense that they were thinking “Hahaha silly boy, what is this future you worry about and past you hold onto?” As this was happening I understood viscerally EXACTLY what they were saying to me and I truly felt like a silly, silly boy. I understood it, because in this realm, every touch, taste, sight, sensation was orgasmically miraculous. I thought, Damn these people have it good, they know how to live right. I felt like the primitive dummy compared to them even though they subsisted on next to nothing. Another distinct picture I have, that has not left my mind, is this breathtakingly beautiful moon hanging over a pond with lily pad. The moonlight reflecting off the water’s surface. and it was just so beautiful that no painting or photograph could ever come close to it.
There was a point at which the celestial cosmic sleigh-ride became too much for me and I still kick myself to this day for letting fear get the best of me but I think it redirected the experience in some way. I let myself succumb to those nagging thoughts that this is a bad LSD trip. It was as if I was fully aware of my cultural programming at that moment, but I could do nothing about it. I realized how deeply engrained my systems of self-hatred are. They can almost convince me they are real. But they are not.
Below are quotes from the book Chasing Fire by Steven Kotler and Jamie Wheal, that helped me give words and context to my experience, something that has been very difficult to do in the last month of being home:
“…contains deep knowledge in a language you can’t read but do understand. It is so profound…it contains exactly the right wisdom for you at this moment.”
“an experience of the infinite rooted in the certainty that all interpretations are personal, provisional, an partial.”
“Our sense of time isn’t localized in the brain. It’s not like vision, which is the sole responsibility of the occipital lobes. Instead, time is a distributed perception, calculated all over the brain, calculated, more specifically, all over the prefrontal cortex. During transient hypofrontality, when the prefrontal cortex goes offline, we can no longer perform this calculation.
Without the ability to separate past from present from future, we’re plunged into an elongated present, what researchers describe as “the deep now.” Energy normally used for temporal processing gets reallocated for focus and attention. We take in more data per second, and process it more quickly. When we’re processing more information faster, the moment seems to last longer- which explains why the “now” often elongates in altered states.
When our attention is focused on the present, we stop scanning yesterday for painful experiences we want to avoid repeating. We quit daydreaming about a tomorrow that’s better than today. With our prefrontal cortex offline, we can’t run those scenarios. We lose access to the most complex and neurotic part of our brains: the prefrontal cortex. The amygdala: the most primitive and reactive part of our brains, the seat of the fight-or-flight response, calms down too.”
For Prospective Ayahuasca Journey-ers
You should never, ever, even think about doing an ayahuasca ceremony unless it is under the guidance of an expert shaman, preferably in South America where the plant is native to the land and people. You are venturing into realms and a reality, which has as much negative capability as it does positive capability. Such is life and the world: dark and light, emptiness, fullness, yin and yang. Shamans have the power to wield negative energy as much as they do positive energy, that is why it is of utmost importance that you do your research and work with someone trustworthy and of pure intention. With regard to Ayahuasca, I think many vastly underestimate the amount of repressed pain and dark energy they are holding inside, so you must approach this with caution. Let’s dig in and get that shit out of you!
“But what if I come back and realize I hate my wife and want a divorce?” It’s the truth and you’re better off for it.
“What if I come back and realize how much I hate my job and have no motivation to work the long hours that made me rich, anymore? Bring it all to the surface!
It is the TRUTH. Your true reality, your true self. You will get a small glimpse of the authentic, essence that is only YOU and what you have always been, you’ve only lost sight of it. Let’s bring that part of you back. That happy smiling child that loved legos and wasn’t shy about saying what, and who you loved.