My Ayahuasca Diaries – Part V: The Final Ceremony: The Awakening of the Lotus

The final night of my Ayahuasca ceremony had arrived. Earlier in the day our session prepared us for our evening and some of the aspects that may likely occur during the ceremony. The main one that stood out to me was that at some point during ceremony, the Shaman would come around to each of us and as part of the ceremonial ritual blow tobacco smoke into the top of our heads and the bottom of our feet. A way to honor the plant spirits and invoke their work. The purpose of this was to seal the work of Spirit that had begun during the week that it may continue in our lives, as well as protect us from any negative influences that would try to interfere with that work continuing. What would interfere with the work of Spirit? We discussed a few things…our own stories telling us the things we had hoped would change or had begun to change really would not change…old ways of thinking that hold us back from new ways of living and believing…negative energies that can come from a number of places that hold us back from going forward. The main point to be taken was how the role of the Shaman was to seal the work of Spirit within us so that it would continue, acting on our behalf as a bridge between us and the spirit world. It sounded beautiful to me…until the comment that the act itself often brought more purging! I had to face that even to the end, the purging would continue. I think that was part of the anxiety that seemed to grow in me each day before ceremony. Part of it was the physical experience, but part of it was what is also entailed…letting go of something that shouldn’t be in you. And you think that would be a good thing – and it is, but sometimes we get attached to things in our lives in a way that brings comfort (real or perceived, and I think in this regard more perceived). My own anxiety involved tinges of whether there would be more within me I hadn’t yet seen that Spirit would bring up (yes, in more ways than one!), coupled with an understanding and belief in the power of ceremony and ritual where intent can really bring about powerful manifestations. So I did what I had been learning to do all week…accept the choice I made that brought me here and let it take its course even to the end. My choice was in fact what brought me here in the first place, and it had led me to my own experience with Ayahuasca.

That approach worked well for me throughout the day’s activities, until that last hour before ceremony, when the anxiety and anticipation always rose, and this time a little higher. As we walked in and I shared a moment with one of my fellow participants who had been here many times before, I said that I was a little more anxious tonight, more than any other night previously. She looked at me in a way that looked directly into my heart and said when she found herself in such a state, she reminded herself what she had learned from her encounters with the spirit of Ayahuasca…it was an experience of love, surrendering to love, to the love we had been encountering as we came to Spirit. And so I chose in that moment to surrender to love as I walked into the ceremony house. And just before I sat down, one of the shamans came over to me, embraced me, and rubbed a sweet-smelling fragrance over my head. It was lotus water, fragrant with the scent of the lotus flower. He told me it was a gift he wanted me to have as I entered into ceremony. I didn’t see him do it to anyone else. And when he did it, it immediately evoked a freedom within me to surrender and enter into the evening in deep and calm peace. And I sat down and I surrendered to love and let go of any anxiety I had been holding onto before entering the ceremony house.

Ceremony began as with each previous evening, and as the Ayahuasca began to move within me, I continued to surrender. I had no expectations. I carried what I had experienced during the week, but only as it was a part of me and the work that had already been going on. All I could think about for a while was surrendering like a lotus in the water, opening up and letting all within me enter the experience. And there was purging, not a lot, but purging. And as I threw up and released what no longer needed to remain with me, all I could think of was how the lotus opens up in water. I took a few sips of water from my cup next to me. And as the night went on, my interaction with that small cup of water became the substance of my evening. Cleansing. Refreshment. Lightness. Calm. Awakening. Love. As a lotus, floating on the calm water of life, opening in beauty. And I will swear to this day that as much as I drank from that cup, and placed my fingers in it and sprinkled the water on myself and a few around me, the cup never emptied. Someone may have been refilling it, or in the state I was in I may have thought I was drinking and sprinkling more than I was. It doesn’t matter to me if there was actually someone who may have come around and poured more water in my cup, what remains important to me was the experience that even the smallest cup with the smallest amount of water gave me refreshment and awakening as I opened to Spirit as the lotus opens in water. That was what was happening to seal the work of Ayahuasca within me. I was awakening. I had been awakening. I continue to awaken to the realization I have what I need to open as a lotus in the waters of life and accept my beauty and the beauty of the world, the universe around me. The love. Love. Love. Love. And when the Shaman sealed the work of Spirit within me, I can say one year later that the work continues.

Maybe some would say it didn’t need to take the experience of Ayahuasca to bring about such a simple realization. I would say myself that the simple truth was always known to my rational mind for longer than I can remember. But what happened during this week to me was the intent surrender of my spirit to Spirit, under the influence of a plant medicine I had longed to experience for many years, and in doing so something happened within and around me that continues. I ended up on this journey because years ago I chose to follow a shamanic path, an awareness I was – had always been – connected to the spirit world. I had come to understand that somehow the experiences of my life had opened me to the realization that, if I chose to accept it, I was a bridge between this world and the next. I was intimately aware of the connection to Spirit. I was intimately aware of the fact I wandered this world not simply for myself, but for others and to share this connection in whatever ways it took form. Yet…I had struggled with this and some other aspects in my life that held me back from moving forward in the way I came to believe I was to move.

Now, one year later, there’s something different going on in me. Some things that happened within me and around me during my time in Peru continue. And some things that went on within me for years have stopped. I had struggled with depression the last few years, not something that may have shown on the outside, but in some ways held me as if prisoner on the inside. I had made a physical move four years ago as part of a step to deal with this, and the change was good, but there was always something more that pined within me. I kept hearing a voice within myself to simplify, to detach from what was unimportant and focus on what was important. I kept dealing with my desire to deepen my connection with Spirit. A thread from as far back as childhood continued to connect the elements of my life and lead me to break with the distractions around me so I could focus on what was always within me. I have always seen the connection. There have been times when I struggled with keeping it in focus, but it has always been there. And so, one night in December 2010, under the lunar eclipse on the winter solstice, I surrendered myself in a journey before my altar. I had several experiences that occurred that night, and in the end I heard a small voice within me under a reddened moon in eclipse say, “Sometimes we grasp at things out of fear, when what we need to do is just let go.” And that night I chose to let go. I saw the things I was grasping at out of fear that brought seeming security and safety, real or perceived, but I knew I was not where I needed to be, where I wanted to be, in my heart. And that night I chose to let go. I chose to step into uncharted territory where all I was used to grasping at would be gone and I would be only with myself and my connection with Spirit. And Ayahuasca taught me in this time and led me forward on this journey.

The nature of the lotus is that it rests on stagnant, murky waters with deep roots that go down to the mud below. And yet, it opens in beauty to the sun each day. Today, I find myself more deeply rooted in the mud of these murky waters we call life. In fact, I find myself at peace rooted in that mud, and yet opening to each day’s light in beauty, in the beauty of this life, the love of this life. I find myself more secure in my heart because I let go of what I thought I needed to grasp to be secure, and found in doing so I was still there, connected to Spirit. And through this experience I have come to rest simply in being. Just being in the now. It doesn’t always come easy, but it has become more and more. I am learning to simply be at rest in the murky waters of our life, with it’s joys and its sorrows, and simply open to each day’s light in beauty.

My Ayahuasca Diaries – Part IV: Dance of the Anaconda

During the week, after three Ayahuasca ceremonies, we had a one day break and in its place we gathered in the ceremony house for an evening Fire Ceremony…a beautifully led ritual giving ourselves over to Spirit and the continued work of the medicine. For me, it was also my fourth day on a special diet I chose to engage in for the week along with four other participants. The diet consisted of limited and very bland meals at breakfast and lunch and gathering late each afternoon to drink a tea-like mixture made of specific plants of the jungle that the Shaman had prepared. The plant mixture was also working within us during the week along with the Ayahuasca. By mid-week, I found myself weak and yet much more open to my senses and the environment around me. It’s good to know that I did choose this diet and that most of the participants were not following it. I share this because I wouldn’t want one to get an impression the normal format for this facility was to keep people in the weakened and maybe disoriented state this type of diet may cause while having them engage in the hallucinogenic effects of the plant medicine itself. Yet choosing the diet did leave me in a weak and sometimes disoriented state, similar to going through a prolonged fast. But it was under the direction of the Shaman and others at the facility who were experienced with the role of the diet in the whole context. By mid-week I was dealing with thoughts of scrapping the diet altogether and eating normal food. Yet I persisted in what I had planned and began with a focus on ridding myself of the things that were not important so that I could focus on my primary reason for being here – the spirit of Ayahuasca working within me and leading me to my next step. In the Fire Ceremony, I surrendered again to the work going on in me and somehow in that I found new strength and energy.

On the fourth night of ceremony, my experiences started taking a different direction. And that direction has persisted even until now. I’m not waiting for it to stop. I’m just recognizing that the medicine does not stop working when you are given over to it. Or maybe it’s that the medicine opens one to Spirit working in a deeper way, and it is that work which continues. My fourth night of drinking Ayahuasca in ceremony was one that began a transformation within me, and now I would say after the fact it has also transformed the world outside of me and continues to do so.

The context was the same…slowly gathering at the ceremony house in excitement and anxiety (really, I think the anxiety had the upper hand as each day passed). Around the room we went in similar fashion drinking from the small tin cup. For me again, a quarter of a cup of the nasty brew. And I chose to sit in my seat after I drank and surrendered to its effects. I think for the rest of this entry, the best way for me to describe my experience is to simply write about it as I experienced it.

Having drank the Ayahuasca and returning to my seat, I focused on relaxing and waiting for the medicine to lead my journey for the evening. The room was now dark and the Shaman’s icaros began to fill the room. I found myself drifting on and off mentally as thoughts entered my head and I let them flow through and out again. The air was warm and yet my body experienced shifts of chills and mild sweating. My body was tingling. I was conscious of what was going on within me and less on what was going on around me…except for the icaros. As I focused on the singing, my body seemed to be adapting to its rhythm, as if the words were invoking movement and energy from within me. The air became warmer and physically all I kept thinking about was the Capirona wood of the floor. It was as if the wood of the tree was affecting me, interacting with me, speaking to me. I kept resisting an urge to just lie down on the bare floor and touch it, put my face against it, and relate to it, until finally the resistance was futile and I left my seat. I moved right to the bare floor, sprawled out, touching it with my hands, my bare feet, my cheeks and my lips. I was overwhelmed with a sense of my connection to the Capirona spirit. Its wood was cool and somehow soft to the touch. It was comforting. Solid yet soft to the touch. I felt like I was becoming one with it. As this continued, I felt unusual movement in my body, as if I was spontaneously writhing in some type of rhythmic motion. The icaros seemed to be resonating within me and stirring something within me. Although the icaros were being sung in the Quechua language, somehow it was as if I understood every word. I began to hear a song to the Anaconda, as if calling it forth into the room. Somehow I understood, and with that I was beginning to experience this huge snake moving through the room around everyone…around me. Fear isn’t the right word to describe what was going on in me. More like a motionless awe where I knew not to move and let the Anaconda move around me and near me. I wasn’t aware of the time span in which this was happening, I was just aware of what was happening. Then my body began to go through some change. I felt as if I was unable to speak, yet I was conscious of my tongue moving in my mouth and losing control over swallowing my saliva so that it was running out of my mouth. My body seemed stiff and almost paralyzed. I felt myself writhing on the wood of the floor seemingly to me as if I was losing control over my arms and legs, but somehow moving my body across the wood of the floor. In the haze of the medicine’s effects, I realized I was becoming a snake. I was actually transforming into the Anaconda. I didn’t understand it, I didn’t mentally try to figure it out, I just succumbed to the change going on. My skin seemed to be peeling away, my flesh felt like I was lying in the afterbirth of a physical change. I was transforming into the Anaconda. I didn’t feel I could resist. It was happening without my ability to stop the process. And so I lay there as it continued, and I surrendered to the realization I was changing. I wasn’t even thinking of what would happen after such a change. I was just there in that moment undergoing this transformation into an Anaconda.

You and I both realize I am still in my same physical body, yet in that ceremony, I actually thought I was changing. Probably the most comical moment of my week was the point during this experience when one of the shamans came over to me and said, “Tony, are you okay?” I replied, “Are we turning into snakes?” “No,” he replied with a notable chuckle in his voice, “We’re not turning you into snakes.” My response was, “Oh, I’m not complaining, I just wanted someone to know I thought it was beautiful.” And then he kindly responded, “Why don’t you come on over and lie down on a mat for a little while.” Yes, I hadn’t changed physically into a snake, but I was caught up in what is called the ‘mareacion’ – the visionary effects of Ayahuasca. He recognized that, and also that a transforming work was going on within me, and that moment of checking in to make sure all was well and that I rested on the mat helped me check in with the reality of where I was and what was happening.

As I rested, the transforming process continued, not in the profound way it had been occurring earlier, but I was going through some type of rebirth and change. I continued to have a physical sense of emerging from an afterbirth type substance. As time passed, I began to start singing quietly this little song I had been singing from my first ceremony. Very simple and childlike, unintelligible, yet somehow familiar to me. And then, I experienced a memory of being in the womb before my actual birth and hearing the same tune. I know of people who claimed to have memories from the womb, but I never have…until this evening. And all I can say is I knew it was my memory in my mother’s womb, hearing this simple song over and over. All in the context of this experience of being reborn and transformed. And more than anything else that occurred at the moment was the comfort of love, the comfort that when I was born I felt love, and while being reborn even now I felt love. My evening continued with a gentle winding down of the effects of the medicine in that same comfort of love. I was entertained by other visions and experiences as this happened along with the comforting sounds of the others around me as their own journeys wound down for the evening. And as I gradually fell asleep in that calm and awoke the next morning in the ceremony house, I felt the comfort of love. Somehow in my dance with the Anaconda, I found the comfort of love.

As I was writing about my experience that evening, I thought about the last tattoo I had gotten just before I left for Peru – an image of an Anaconda in a spiral of energy. I got that tattoo, as with all my tattoos, for a specific reason. This one was tied to my decision to leave the routine and security of my life and to journey into the unknown to find myself more deeply in a call of Spirit to begin a new part of that journey. To go to the jungle and meet the Anaconda that I began to encounter even before I departed. I recently read that the Anaconda is one of the few snakes if not the only one that gives birth to its young live rather than laying eggs that hatch outside the womb. I understand, somehow, what that means a little more clearly now…that in the realm of love and in the work of true medicine for the spirit we can be born alive and anew to our world again if we choose to let ourselves do so. That night in the midst of the jungle, I chose to let this happen to me, and that dance now continues…

My Ayahuasca Diaries – Part III: Wide Awake

My third night of Ayahuasca ceremony, during the ceremony itself and ever since, has been what I refer to as my night of being wide awake. There’s no other way for me to describe it except by this phrase, and from what I’ve shared about my first two nights being wide awake may cause you to think of my experience differently than I encountered it. It wasn’t simply a spiritual experience of being totally connected to the universe in a state of altered consciousness. It was an actual physical experience of being wide awake, all my senses heightened, while at the same time connected to Spirit and all around me. Maybe I could say I was wide awake while continuing in my journey of awakening.

The day was similar to the previous one with discussions over meals and after and another workshop, all of which continued to be very helpful in the total experience. Some things continued that had started on the very first day, and I found this also helpful in the total experience. And so I would like to share for a moment about what these things were first before sharing about my wide awake journey during ceremony, because they all made for the context of what was happening for me. Upon arrival to this facility in the jungle north of Iquitos, Peru, after all of us were given a good amount of basic information prior to that point, we were shown the bungalows where we would stay and sleep. These were fairly simple structures that provided for basic needs. What was interesting to me was in the midst of the simplicity there was a large and heavy metal trunk with a lock and a small safe that allowed each of us to lock away our personal belongings for the week. They were well built so that they adequately protected your belongings in the heat and moisture of the jungle. I found their presence interesting because they didn’t fit in with the simplicity of it all. You normally find a small safe in a hotel room, not in the midst of a primitive bungalow in the Amazon jungle. I took advantage of them and locked away my phone, my iPad, my wallet and other personal items – I wasn’t going to need them for this week; I had just brought them for the following weeks I would be living in Cusco. And yes, that was a nice way to make people feel their belongings were safe while they were out and about the area. Probably like most people, I want to secure valuables especially when among a group of strangers, and doing so gives one that sense of security. On a practical level, I wasn’t going to be calling anyone that week and there wasn’t really phone or internet service available to us. At the same time, I was there on my own personal journey of the previous few years looking to simplify my life and let go of my attachment to material things to delve deeper into my own spiritual call.

After a couple of days, I brought up during our casual discussions what the experience was doing for me, and that was part of the process for me that week. It wasn’t really a matter of securing valuables for me as much as locking away things that could really have been a distraction for me. I had just come from a professional role of years in higher education where connection by phone and internet were not only normal but necessary at times. I had left my children whom I talk to regularly back in the states. I had left my pets, part of my everyday common life, with my son. I had just given away some of my belongings and packed up the rest and put it in storage for when I would return to the states and set up a new home in Chicago. In effect, I was there in the middle of the Amazon jungle and had no place to call home, with only few of my belongings and far away from my loved ones, friends, and associates. And with all that, I made a simple decision to lock the few necessary things I had, some of which represented my connection to people back home, away for the week. I locked it all away for the week. I put those things in a trunk and a safe, some of them like the phone and iPad being turned off, set the lock, and left them there. What I shared in discussing this was how it provided me an opportunity to put aside those things that could distract me to enable myself to be fully present to my experience…the real reason I was there. I know at other times in my life I could have turned my phone off for a couple of hours or not accessed the internet for an evening, but I never really did that. I had recently decided to forego television and that started freeing me to do other things in my home and life that lessened my contact with media. But this experience, I think because of the opportunity present and the choice I made to use it, allowed me to fully engage in my journey for the week. It allowed for me to experience what I called being wide awake later that evening.

In the hour before ceremony, we slowly gathered around the ceremony house as did our continued awe and anxieties. You would think after a couple of days you easily get more comfortable with the experience, but from what happened twice already, you knew you had no clue what that experience was really going to be. Oh, yes, the purging was going to be there. That was clear, and although some people admitted they feared the physical experience of that, I think on a deeper level we all feared the reality behind the purging – what was going to come up now that we had to purge and let go of in our lives. And you were more aware by the third day that once you drank your medicine, you were going to relinquish control again…so it wasn’t always your choice of what would come up to purge. But part of the beauty of this experience for me were the men and women I was with who were making a conscious decision to do all of it anyway…to let the medicine do its work and bring us all to greater freedom and healing. And as the invitation to enter the ceremony house came, we entered yet again.

Something unplanned did occur during that moment of waiting for me that evening. I mentioned I had been smoking up till the time I came and at the start of the week. And usually those who did would have a cigarette or two prior to the start of ceremony. But this night, when I went to light up, I stopped and something came over me that I didn’t need this anymore. So I gave a new friend my pack to keep with her in the ceremony house to still relieve (or disguise, maybe distract) that horrible taste. I just let go of the cigarettes. It was a simple action, but it was a result of something going on inside of me that had shifted. To this day, I no longer smoke.

Same process, different night. And the familiarity with that helped to provide a similar sense of security for the moment just like locking your distractions away for the moment. And I drank yet again. And as usual the shaman asked how much and I drank about a quarter of a cup. I went back to my chair for a while and then moved over to a mat on the floor just to get more comfortable and lie down as Ayahuasca’s energies took effect. My having just let go of the cigarettes wasn’t a problem. I just surrendered to the medicine. Sometimes medicine tastes bad, but it still helps you. And the medicine took effect. My body went through sensations of tingling, hot and cold sensations, but tonight there was no purging for me. Well, let me say no vomiting, no diarrhea, no typical effects from the two previous nights. I can’t say that was the case for many others as the sounds started as its own chorus of effect. For a moment, I was distracted by whether I drank enough, whether the medicine was working, whether I was holding back, whether I wasn’t letting myself face issues, etc. And I again surrendered and just let it all go. And the medicine continued its work.

For the rest of the evening, in the dark after everyone drank, in the dim light of candles as they were lit, during the shaman’s singing of icaros and rattling of shacapas…I was awake. I was physically conscious of everything going on around me. I watched while others purged. I watched while a couple people dealt with fear and tremendous anxiety and the shaman came over to them and prayed and did spirit work to relieve them. I watched one person “freak” out a bit and the shaman simply telling them to focus on where he was and set aside the stories going on in his head. I watched him be hosed down with cold water (as sometimes happens I learned) to refresh his physical body and snap him out of fear or whatever was going on with him. I watched the shaman and the staff go around the ceremony house tending to the needs of all there as they came up. And I just lay there and watched…and watched. I felt as if I was in a classroom or viewing a live documentary learning about what the medicine did. I felt as if I was directly and deeply connected to the various individuals I viewed as they went through their experiences. I felt as if I was understanding on a deeper level how Spirit interacts with us and works with us and brings healing about in us. And I watched. It was the only night this happened, but it was a night that stays with me. I had no sense of fear, no sense of judgment as to what was occurring. I just watched, wide awake.

I realized over the next couple of days during our discussions that I was also purging during my experience. I kept yawning throughout the entire evening, big yawns like when you’re ready to fall asleep, but I did not fall asleep. I was conscious of my physical body in heightened ways. My tongue in my mouth and against my teeth. At some points I almost felt that if I had tried to speak I wouldn’t have been able to form words, and yet I was very conscious of all around me and my mind felt sharp and attentive…wide awake. I had continued ethereal experiences of snakes around me most of the evening. Large snakes, anacondas I believe, moving about the room. As the shaman sang icaros (which he sang in the native Incan language of Quechua, not similar to Spanish), I thought at many times I clearly understood what he was singing, what he was saying. And when I didn’t understand the words, somehow, somewhere in my spirit, I understood the message, the song. I learned over the next few days that was a common experience others had even to the point that we understood the same words of the songs. It was as if every possible sense my body, my mind, my spirit could experience was heightened, aware, and awake. And as the evening wound down in its typical way, I laid back down on my mat and stayed the night in the ceremony house.

When I awoke the next morning, I was more awake then I had ever been. I understood somewhere within me, I had not only touched the divine, I witnessed the divine with all my senses. I witnessed others touching the divine. I witnessed the divine touching all of us. As I’ve shared before in this series of posts, there was a thread of familiarity as well as a new experience going on in me at the same time. I’m used to touching the divine and witnessing it. On my third night I had just done so in a completely new and different way. I witnessed the work of Ayahuasca and this night it had me wide awake.

My Ayahuasca Diaries – Part II: Love, Love, Love

On my second day of the Ayahuasca retreat, I was now one day wiser and one day more experienced. I think all this meant was I knew a little of what may happen in the second ceremony and because of it still carried anxiety and awe about it all. The day involved a voluntary workshop session as well as great informal discussions about the first night’s experiences over meals and afterwards. It was good to share and to hear others share about their experiences the night before. I found it interesting that a good number of us experienced the flashing lights and geometric shapes when the Ayahuasca had first started to take effect in our bodies. If it were simply stories like acid trips of the 60’s or 70’s, I would have thought we were influenced by the culture around us or memories and stories of psychedelic experiences. This, however, was an encounter with a plant medicine and I found it uncanny that its introduction to a good few of us was so similar. Of course, that is the plant mixture’s effects, but what I was caught up in was how those effects were introduced to different individuals in the same way, opening the door for the entire evening’s events. It was almost as if this was the normal doorway Ayahuasca presents to newcomers and upon entering they are thrust into its energies. The discussions provided good continued context for what was still a very new experience for me and one that I now knew would be a very intimate one with Spirit as well as my past spiritual experiences and beliefs. I learned from the “stories” I encountered and from those the others shared that the continued ceremonies were going to challenge us in psychological and emotional ways. I also shared that something physically was going on in my body from the ceremony the night before. I didn’t know how to explain it other than I was conscious of something going on in my physical body, as if I was able to sense activity in a specific cell or area of my body. Obviously I had been through an experience of drinking a plant medicine mixture that causes those who partake of it to purge in the ways I described in my last post, but this wasn’t about the “hangover” effect of that as much as a new level of awareness, and one that has continued with me in a very new and different way to this day – more about that in the last of this series of posts.

Evening came near as did anxiety. Slowly my fellow participants and myself gathered outside the ceremony house still learning more about one another and also learning of the shared anxiety many of us carried of what was going to happen. Yes, the purging we knew was going to happen and that wasn’t something to look forward to except that you knew now it came with the turf and had to be accepted. I think what many including myself were more concerned about was what was going to happen with us…our lives, the issues going on in our lives, the “stories” we carried from our lives, the challenges that lay before us, and even the things of which we were not aware that may come up in such an experience. I have learned we become anxious when we realize we do not have control. The first night’s experience showed us we were partaking in a ceremony governed by a plant medicine spirit that was going to involve letting go of control and letting the medicine guide the experience. It was all still under the oversight of a very experienced Shaman coupled with an experienced staff who had taken others through this many times. But it still meant you willingly gave up control with the intent of letting Spirit (or whatever you defined as your source, higher power, god…even if just the medicine itself) guide you and deal with you. And in the midst of my own anxiety, that was the concept that helped me to enter the ceremony house when the time came – I had come to this place specifically to encounter the medicine that is Ayahuasca and have it work with me. I chose to come here and participate in ceremony, and there was great power and intent in that choice.

Earlier in the day during those periods of discussion, I had shared about the strange experiences I had in the months following my choice to come here and preceding my arrival. I had instances when I would drink one beer and become physically sick. One time I had thrown up for about an hour during such an experience. In all instances, I felt the need to lay down on my bed and when I closed my eyes, almost instantaneously, I found myself wrapped within a large snake. Sounds scary but it wasn’t…it was somehow comforting and nurturing. Somehow, I knew that snake represented something more than its image and that it was tied to my journey to Peru. And somehow too, like my first experience with Ayahuasca, it seemed familiar. I was told that my experience was not uncommon, and that many times the medicine starts working with you once you make the decision to work with it, even before you actually partake of it. So as I entered into this next ceremony, I did come a little wiser even if still in awe.

On the second night of ceremony, the same process of drinking from the cup occurred as it would for the rest of the week. And this night, when the medicine started to take effect, there were no flashing colors and geometric shapes. I got the tingling sense through my body with some fluctuations of feeling cold and hot, but what did happen was, of course, purging. Not as much as the first night for me, much more than the first night for others, but for all…purging. Again, from the shamanic perspective it is the medicine working in the body to rid it of what is not needed. Yes, we could make an analogy that as you threw up it was as if you were letting go of things in your life you were relinquishing. And in part, that is what occurs. But it’s also work on levels unseen that sometimes you aren’t aware of yet still relinquishing. I learned from the discussions that as this experience happens we can be dealing with past memories, unresolved issues, current life challenges and illness, and a host of things. And we were guided into ceremony to see these as part of the stories of our lives. Nothing more. Important because they are part of our very lives, but significant only in relation to the larger world around us. I think more than anything for me, my experience with Ayahuasca showed me how big that world around me was. My experience on the second night was one of encountering the length and height and depth and breadth of the universe of which we are all a part. Take that on whatever level of the universe it means for you, because for me it was as if I encountered every level of it. I still cannot say it was entirely new for me, just deeper and wider and longer and more expansive than I have ever experienced. But this experience on my second night was what I would simply describe as a much deeper encounter with the fact that we are indeed part of something much larger than ourselves and connected to one another because of it. This night for me was one of embracing beliefs and perspectives I have always held, even as they have evolved over the years, in the broader context of our connection with one another and to a primary source. Whether that is God, Great Spirit, Love, Oneness or something else, I knew I was connected to it. I was overwhelmed, even in the midst of purging, by love, by oneness, by beauty, by suffering…basically by my connectedness to all humanity, to all sentient beings, to all spirits, to all consciousness. Yes, one can say I was in the middle of the jungle on a hallucinogenic trip induced by a plant mixture – and for all intents and purposes I was – but this was not a recreational “trip.” I was experiencing an encounter with the divine, what I embrace as the divine, as that which is beyond myself. I was on sacred ground where our normal earthly existence was touching the divine. I can’t fully answer what happens in the same situation for someone that does not have a belief in the divine, but I can tell you I talked with some participants who shared a perspective as such and yet encountered something beyond themselves. I believe, as I studied this experience for seven years before partaking in it, that there is indeed some connection to an alternate reality that Ayahuasca bridges and in that encounter we embrace something beyond ourselves. And when we embrace it, we have the capacity to awaken, to change, to heal, to move forward. Obviously drinking Ayahuasca is not the only way to encounter this connection and awakening. It is one way, but one that has been used for centuries from some accounts. What I do know for a fact though is that I personally chose to encounter the divine through this experience and I did.

The wonderful people I met during my week in the jungle, some of which I am still connected to, remember my second night of being filled with joy, with laughter, and singing. I think what some people remember the most is the moment I burst out in song, simply singing Love, Love, Love. For it was Love that best described what I encountered in my ceremony. The Love that connects us all. The Love that heals us all. The Love that connects us to our universe.

Love! Love! Love!

My Ayahuasca Diaries – Part I: A Tin Cup, Oneness, and Love

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 for 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.

My Journey Presses Onward

The last time I wrote about my encounter with my friend The Grim Reaper was in September after dealing with a medical issue this summer revolving around my gall bladder and the potential news I may have cancer. At that time I wrote the following: 
“As it turned out fortunately, there was no presence of cancer in the intestine or the gall bladder. I had my gall bladder removed because it was diseased, but nothing more than that. And yes, that was wonderful news. I realized if I hadn’t even developed the bacterial infection, I wouldn’t have even known about the other problems so that they could be treated. Not doing so may have resulted in other issues. And even with this good news, there’s still a couple minor things that have to be dealt with later this Fall, but I move through this trusting in the understanding I have learned – my physical body is also in transition and getting ready with my mind and spirit for this new time and journey.”  
And so the time recently came to deal with the things that were left undone. In October I went back for a scan of my kidneys because during the whole endeavor with the bacterial infection I developed during my last week in Peru, not only was there concern for a mass in my gall bladder, but also a small mass on one of my kidneys. At the time the gall bladder issue seemed more urgent, so it was decided a later scan of the kidneys would be done after I was well through and recovered from the surgery. And that scan showed the mass still present with an understanding between my doctor and I that it appeared to be a cancer and should be removed. Surgery again, a little more involved with a little longer recovery. And last week all this was done…with the discovery that the small mass was a malignant form of kidney cancer. It was completely removed, and it’s margin for the possibility of return is very small. I had cancer, for real this time, and now it’s gone. Again, wonderful news!  
As I sit here writing, I’m still taking in this whole experience, one through which a thread of peace has been flowing the entire time. You see, except for the month upon my return from Peru when that bacterial infection disabled me through a rash of physical symptoms, I have been feeling exceptionally well and energetic. Since recovery from the gall bladder surgery and the start of a new job with long days sometimes, I have even been experiencing renewed vigor coming physically and from deep down in my spirit. Yet an unexpected encounter with most likely something I ate in a place I would have never been had I not made a conscious decision to leave my routine and go after my heart led me to this moment…the removal from my body of cancer that I had no idea was there. My doctor reminds me of what I am so aware…how grateful I should be for my circumstances. A not uncommon infection that made my body physically miserable for a month was in disguise the means to rid the same body of disease. It’s all speculation, but it’s conceivable that I would have not decided to leave my job and home in Pittsburgh and continued working. I struggled with the actual decision for some time before making it. I’m told this kind of cancer would have grown and then I may have started to develop symptoms. This kind of cancer could also have spread to other places even before symptoms fully developed to recognize the problem. So, I suppose another scenario could have been that I never made my decision and someday later developed a problem that may have prevented me doing what I did this year, or worse yet that may not have been treatable in the same way. Why is this important to me? Because my decision has been tied to an ongoing call deep in my heart to let go of the safe, the secure, the routine and go after the things that have been stirring in my heart. To rid my life of the things that were taking up space but not serving purpose. To simplify and embrace that which is in front of me.  
My whole experience during my first week in Peru engaging in shaman ayahuasca ceremonies has been continuing since that time. An encounter with a spiritual medicine that purges the body of all that stands in the way of Spirit fully moving within you. From my first ceremony I shared with others there that something had shifted in my physical body and was going on in a way I didn’t understand. And at the same time I connected more deeply than ever with love, with oneness, and with Spirit.  
And so for me right now, taking in my recent experience is yet another reminder of a flow into which I have chosen to step. A flow of grace. A flow of heart. A flow of Spirit. A flow that continues to move me in a direction where things that I cannot take on this journey are being released so that I may embrace it more fully.  

Hope for a Dying Planet

Up, up and away! Remember this? Ever hear it? It’s a common phrase of Superman, my childhood hero. Actually, in all honesty…he’s still my hero…he’s always been. From my earliest memories Superman was always there. A shining hero. A beacon of light. A symbol of power and strength. Colorful, bold, purposeful, dynamic. Everything I looked for in a hero. Still today at 55, my home is filled with Superman memorabilia…action figures, comic books, even a replica of his parents sending him off to Earth as an infant. Do you know the story?
Superman was from the planet Krypton. His father was a scientist who was predicting the destruction of their world and attempting with his knowledge to do what he could to save as many as possible. When imminent destruction was clear, his last resort was to send his son to the planet Earth, whose yellow sun would provide superhuman powers that would allow him to be a savior for another planet. Sound familiar now? A dying planet? Need for rescue from destruction? A very timely story for today, yet one that’s been around for decades…and if you study ancient civilizations, one that’s really been around for centuries.
Our world is suffering. Yes, on a physical level with climate change and man-made processes that destroy the natural ecosystem around us. But it is also suffering on other levels…financial, political, social, spiritual. We all know some way this affects us and those to whom we are connected. And some days it seems overwhelming, as if the whole planet will self destruct. And we wonder…is there hope?
Superman represents that hope for me. A life given for the salvation of the world. A Christ figure. A Buddha figure. A shaman figure. These all resonate with me. And even if you don’t have belief in a greater Spirit, if you believe in the salvation of our planet, you may very well have something that drives your hope to engage in its salvation. This is a crucial time in all of our lives, and one that is crucial for the generations to come to sustain our world. I think this is a time that calls all of us…you…me…every one of us to become a hero. To find what will give us hope and the power to save our dying planet. We don’t need to wear a powerful costume and symbol as much as find within us that which will help us and those around us move forward in hope.
There are many heroes in the world of fiction and fantasy. Some recent examples touch even more to our real lives. The X-men have special abilities, unique for each person, that together make a difference in offering hope to the world. The television series Heroes offered a similar take in a different way…each person having uniques abilities that went beyond themselves and had the capability of making a difference for others. And then there’s someone like Toy Story’s Buzz Lightyear…who believed the abilities he was “told” he had and accomplished great things in the life of a child. Isn’t this relative to all of us?
I am a hero with the potential to be hope for a dying planet. I can only be that hope because I believe there are many others of us out there with their own unique abilities that can make a difference in our world. I’m pledging my role and now I’m asking you to pledge yours. Let’s form our own legion of superheroes and become the hope for a dying planet!