A small tin cup, obviously worn and bearing its own share of experiences. A large, round ceremony space carefully constructed from the wood of the Amazon jungle trees so integral to its function and purpose. A growing sense of awe, fear, anxiety as to what lay ahead in a setting in which I found myself, by my own choice, at a strange sense of peace. Roughly twenty-five other “strangers” were there with me, who during the upcoming week would remind me of people I had met in my life already…not as in deja vu, but as in actually being those people. Maybe in the same way that the space felt like that space in which I had often found myself over the last few years. Somehow new and familiar at the same time. Maybe because I yearned to be there over a period of seven years. Maybe because I finally made a decision to be there and this came with the desire becoming reality. In the end, what I searched for I found, yet a longing for more was stirred. What I wondered about brought answers, yet more questions arose. And in the end, when I walked away at its conclusion, something new had begun. This is my story about my encounter with Ayahuasca. It’s summarized with more of a general overview of what happened in me and around me each day. I decided to write about this experience in a series of parts, describing my actual experiences each day, and then a final part describing what led me here and where it lead me afterwards.
It would take another and really lengthy narrative to fully explain what Ayahuasca is, but let me simply describe it as a plant mixture that has been used by shamans in the Andean and Amazonian areas for probably centuries for healing and connection to the spiritual world. Its effect is hallucinogenic because of the particular chemistry of the plant combinations. That effect could be likened to experience with LSD, but it’s not really the same experience. Here is a link that may provide a good summary explanation to give you an idea of why someone would even consider this experience.
For context, I entered into this not unaware of hallucinogenic experiences. I used LSD and mescaline in the seventies and even LSD in the last couple years, the latter times more in my quest to delve into different alternate reality experiences from a shamanic perspective than what I normally experience in common journey work. I did so in the latter times with spiritual intent, going before Spirit and setting intention as to what I sought. That’s different from simply recreational use. But using a synthetic substance is also different from one that is natural and used specifically for a spiritual purpose. It was this type of experience I sought that led me to finally embark on an Ayahuasca journey. And if you notice I capitalize the name of the plant, it is my own way of acknowledging not simply a plant, but a plant spirit that has affected my life and in fact, still continues to do so.
The first day of my journey began in the same way as the first day of the others who were there with me. We were going to experience our first Ayahuasca ceremony on the very first day we came. I learned that there are many places in the jungle that offer similar ceremonies, but what was special about this place to me was two aspects. First, there somehow was a special “connection” experienced by this group of total strangers. We all seemed to be “open” with each other, meaning we opened our hearts with one another. I think as the week went on I experienced that everyone including myself seemed to be committed to why we were there. And that commitment involved a level of honesty I don’t think you easily find among a group of strangers. So here was a group of individuals who had committed themselves to seek and find, to deal with issues and questions, to strengthen a connection to Spirit in whatever form that was for each person and decided to do so in the midst of everyone else there and not apart from each other. Second, the staff provided a context for ceremony and potential experiences in a daily way that proved a helpful “covering” for the experience of each person. So maybe that “open covering” provided a place of trust and protection each one of us needed to embark on our common and individual journeys that week.
Ceremony was sacred and with intent, not new to me even if in a different form. Spirit was present, and that always enables me to give over my intent to Spirit and let Spirit lead. It began around six in the evening each day. I had the option of sitting in a very comfortable chair or laying on a mat on the floor. And everyone had their “essential” supplies within reach…a bucket, a roll of toilet paper, and a small cup of water. Blankets were within reach if needed as was more water. And not only were the essentials provided, the daily context gave us an understanding of why those items may be helpful if not necessary. Ayahuasca is a plant spirit that works with the body in a physical way, many times leading to experiences of purging that from the perspective of Amazonian shamanism entails getting out of the body what doesn’t need to be there, and sometimes shouldn’t be there. I’ve learned in my Western perspective that dealing with issues in life tend to involve mental analysis, reflection, catharsis, and other psychological and emotional processes. In the jungle perspective those things are just stories or parts of stories of our lives, but they’re not really the focus. The focus involves a real, earthy experience of getting out of the physical body what shouldn’t be there. I think I can say it’s related to what we’d call the stories, but the shaman would say it’s the work of the plant spirit to initiate the purging and the purging as a physical experience is also a deeply spiritual one that is tending to needs within us that we may not even understand. So I went into my first experience with a simple understanding of what may happen, but all that really meant was I had a little help to deal with what would happen. and what would happen was different each time and with each person.
We all sat or lay on a mat within proximity of the same people each night. I think that brought an immediate kinship in experience and a familiarity with who was around you when your experience of reality began to change. And we went in a simple order in walking up to the shaman to drink from the tin cup. So each night’s ceremony had some familiarity once this first night’s experience took place, and that again too was a part of creating context that proved to me to create a safe space in the sacredness of the ceremony. I was still smoking at the time, and those around me, even a couple non-smokers, asked for a cigarette upon drinking from the cup as it seemed to provide a distraction or ease to the taste of the medicine. And so this was the start each night, preceded by what anyone I talked to and myself experienced in the hour before the start… a subtle fear and awe simultaneously of what was going to happen.
It was my turn to come up to the shaman. I was asked how much Ayahuasca I wanted to be poured by him into the small tin cup, so I asked for a quarter thinking it was a reasonable beginning. The medicine was poured and the shaman breathed tobacco into the cup after pouring, invoking the spirit of the medicine and breathing the tobacco as an offering. I don’t know how to describe the taste. Horrible doesn’t convey what goes through my mind. Medicine always tastes bad doesn’t convey the experience. But, for lack of a better descriptor…it tasted horrible. Whatever that means to you, multiply by some other factor of disgusting, and let it give you at least some idea. A cigarette really did help take the edge off the taste. But I drank it, so I accepted it into my body for the evening. And I went back to my chair and sat as I watched the others after engage in similar fashion. All in the quiet of ceremony and sacred space, dark, candles lit, and everyone I think bringing good intent for themselves and everyone else. And when all had drank, the lights went out and the shaman began chanting to the spirits and rattling a bundle of leaves as tools of the ceremony. The songs we were told were called icaros, and the bundle of leaves called shacapa. More about those in various parts of my experience during the week.
Twenty minutes or so seemed to pass and went from moments of my eyes open to moments of my eyes closed, waiting from whatever was going to happen. I really didn’t attach what I “thought” or “wanted” or “feared” would happen. I entered into ceremony letting go of attachment and let myself trust what would happen. And when what would happen began, I wouldn’t have even known how to really prepare.
My eyes were closed and a sense of tingling came over me physically. Something was happening to me physically and I was aware of it. And in the darkness of my closed eyes I started to see lights, like neon lights…bright, moving, and in some way interacting with me or my mind or my experience. The lights quickly formed patterns, so quick I don’t think I could have conceived them to create the experience. I can only describe it as geometric patterns, puzzle patterns, moving patterns in a variety of colors and shapes, somewhat like a kaleidoscope, but not exactly. They somehow seemed like ancient symbols and ruin-like while at the same time moving with a dance or rhythmic-like quality. I don’t really know how long this lasted. It could have been a few minutes or ten to fifteen minutes. And during the time, I kept my eyes both closed and opened. It continued both ways. I was entranced, yet aware, conscious yet given over to the encounter. It wasn’t totally a new encounter; there was something familiar about it. At the same time, it was something I never experienced before that I can remember. And then it stopped. It somehow shut off. And I continued to sit there in awe of what I just encountered.
My body began to experience some chills and tingling, and almost immediately I knew to grab the plastic bucket at my feet and hold it to my mouth, and I started to vomit. There’s not a pretty way of saying vomit, but that again is the physical way the spirit medicine works. And I vomited. And when I felt like it was done, I vomited again. And again. And that gives an idea of why a roll of toilet paper would also be an essential item as well as a cup of water. And the whole time, similar experiences were going on around me. I don’t think there’s a memory anyone in my recollection would have about an experience like this. And yet it somehow either pulled us all together or we felt together because we were sharing a common connection to a physical experience we were having to one extent or another. So that togetherness made for laughter in response to some of the sounds going on as well as probably some further anxiety as to when it would stop or if it would stop. The ceremony house had a number of bathroom stalls on one part of its circular design, and those came in handy for some because purging takes place in other ways also, and I learned sometimes at the same time. Purging was going on in other ways. Tears were being shed. Crying was heard in a way that I sensed relief taking place, the shedding of pain with the shedding of tears. Laughter was happening also, and that too I experienced as release personally and as I heard it in others. And some deep things were going on also. Deep like the life issues you can imagine coming up when you give yourself over with the intent of being healed of issues and drawn into greater connection to Spirit. Singing was happening in some instances. Free verse as if spirits were being lifted up as well as singing in what seemed was specific response to what was happening. By now, I had moved to a mat on the floor as it seemed more comfortable and I felt more physically relaxed to continue the experience. That included a little more throwing up, more laughter, and more singing on my part. I think the entire experience lasted somewhere between four to five hours, but I only share that as to what I was told. I had lost all sense of time and place. But what I had gained was a connection to something I had never experienced in quite this way. And as the effects of the medicine began to wear off and people started to leave to return to their bungalows, a smaller group remained and shared more laughter, more song, and an experience of oneness and love that I seemed to encounter in a new way and yet which seemed all too familiar. And as even that smaller group broke up slowly, a handful of us remained and slept the night in the ceremony house. And when I woke the next morning between two people with whom I had shared a profound experience the night before, I could only think about the psalms of my Christian upbringing and how wonderful it was to dwell in the courts of the Lord.
And this was my introduction to Ayahuasca, and the beginning of a week that is still having an impact on my life and my connection to the world around me and to Spirit.