Well, well. Here I am, five years after my last ayahuasca experience sitting at my computer once again in an attempt to rise to the challenge of describing my latest venture into the realm of the sacred plants. This time I have taken part in a 4-day intense workshop – the longest and definitely the most intense retreat I have been through.
Booking this retreat was actually quite a spontaneous action. For a few years, I hadn’t really dared to even think about taking part in any ritual. The memory of past excursions had faded slightly and possibly a natural conservatism had crept in, remembering more so the difficult times I went through rather than all the positive energy and inspiration I had gained. That was all to change though when I heard about Michael Pollan’s book with the striking title How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence. This sounded like it was right up my street and I picked up a copy excitedly.
Michael Pollan is a respected author and journalist who in the past had covered topics such as food, diet and botany. Never before was he an advocate for drugs or in any way linked to a counter-culture, which made this book all the more promising. What would a guy grounded in the scientific material world, without any spiritual leanings, who had no previous experience with psychedelics, make of such substances as psilocybin, LSD, ayahuasca and 5 MeO DMT? This book was a compelling study of the effects and possible benefits of such substances for our modern-day society. Could there be a place for these in the right setting to help with the growing burden of depression, anxiety, hopelessness and fear of death? Could they be seen as tools to help us gain insight and understanding into what consciousness is and shift our worldview back into a more balanced state?
All in all, Pollan appeared to have quite a positive experience of these altered states of consciousness and his descriptions of the events certainly rang a bell for me, bringing back many of the wonderful memories I have of my experiences, as well as reviving the wonder that such experiences are even possible and how lucky we are to have a glimpse of these alternative states of mind. My interest was certainly piqued again and I dived into other podcasts such as Paul Stamets on Joe Rogan talking about the miracle of fungi and the psilocybin experience. Synchronicity kindly stepped in at the right moment and in my inbox I found an email detailing a host of upcoming events in the Netherlands in November and December. A moments pause; fleeting doubts… But in my heart I knew this was the right time to take the plunge again and enroll in my first workshop in half a decade. Luckily this time I got in too – these events tend to become quickly fully booked and so I was overjoyed (and somewhat nervous) when I got the email confirming my spot.
Post confirmation I also started to wonder what my intention really was. I know this is an important part of any workshop – a clear intention, even if it is often the case that ayahuasca gives you what you need, not what you want, i.e. your stated intention might not be a part of the agenda at all once things get going. Over the next few weeks I vaguely worked out a few intentions – my inability to listen to my intuition or gut feeling, my sense of being stuck in life, the commitment issues I now seem to have (a large part of the reason I am still single today). Also my mood swings and how I would get stuck in a downward spiral for a whole day or sometimes more. And of course the seemingly ever-present question in my mind – do I want to stay in Sweden or do I want to return home to Ireland? All these (surely related?) issues are things I need to work on and would like some clarity about how to tackle them head on.
With this blog post I’m going to approach it a little differently to previous posts, where I detailed a lot of the happenings in and around the ceremony – the venue, the people, the food, etc. This time I will limit it mostly to my actual experience of the ceremonies as the peripheral details are essentially the same.
I am somewhat anxious about living up to the challenge of describing this particular workshop as it was by far the most intense and the deepest I have ever gone into the ayahuasca realm. Some parts are so far out there that I doubt that I will have the words to accurately paint a picture of the experience, but this is for my own record and I can only hope that I do it justice!
Nerves had been steadily building in the run up to the workshop and, as expected, the trip from Stockholm to the Netherlands was an anxious one – travelling alone it was difficult to take my mind off the events to come. Arriving at the venue is a little nerve-wracking for me, as the social anxiety of meeting forty total strangers can be a little overwhelming. As usual, however, after meeting a few friendly faces over a cup of tea, the nerves started to subside and I could feel a readiness for the night’s ceremony ahead. I knew from past experience that the first night is often the easiest – like a soft landing setting the scene for the coming days. After the traditional group sharing before we drank, it became clear that this was a relatively experienced group with only a couple first-timers. Afterwards I would realise that this maturity in the group would be quite beneficial to the whole.
Happily I found myself to be in quite a relaxed state as we prepared for the opening ceremony of the workshop. This time around it was to be two Brazilian women as the shamans guiding us along our journey, and their kind faces, gentle smiles and softly spoken words set our minds at ease and let us know that we were in good hands. So important to feel this level of trust so that one can totally let go and get the most out of the experience.
As we stood in line to receive the first dose of the sacred plant medicine we broke into the usual chant of “Aya aya ayahuasca” and I watched as others performed their own little individual routine before drinking it down. My turn came and the shaman looked me in the eyes, as if judging how much I was ready to take as she filled the glass to the brim. I nodded my thanks and went over to the altar set up in the middle with beautiful flower arrangements and a host of “power objects” like shells, unusual gemstones, feathers and icons. A little sniff of the thick, dark liquid brought a flash of memory, but as before, it wasn’t too foul tasting for me. A bitter-sweet (although more bitter than sweet), earthy concentrate that I easily downed in one and cleaned the glass with my little finger (we were advised that the brewing process is slow and laborious, which along with the issues with importing it made it important not to waste a drop).
It took a while for the effects of this first glass to make themselves felt, so much so that I had begun to accept that I might not feel anything at all during this session. After all, I was tired from the early start and long journey here. However, this judgement was a little premature and all of a sudden I felt the surge of energy from the medicine and I was transported to what I can only call “this ayahuasca space”. This space is quite difficult to describe in words and it’s as if every time I arrive “there”, I feel this sense of familiarity – a revival of a memory of having been here before. Even on subsequent days of this workshop, each time I was fully in the ayahuasca space, I felt as if I had forgotten what it was like to be there before the ceremony started. Anyway, in this space I felt happy, comfortable and a sense of belonging. I wondered why I was anxious beforehand – here there was really nothing to be afraid of!
The journey to this space had come on so fast, with very little visuals that I had come to expect from previous ayahuasca ceremonies. The room itself was, as always, transformed. Intense colours, everything in the room gleaming as if emitting its own light from within. The flags draped around the room took on a whole new appearance, psychedelic patterns flowing as they fluttered as if in a gentle breeze. From my vantage point, one flag, which I could only see the bottom of, and viewed upside-down, appeared like a face peering down from the balcony above – Mother Ayahuasca herself keeping an eye on me?
Outside the wind howled and the rain lashed against the window panes behind my head. The power of nature all around. I felt good. As the medicine coursed through my veins, I felt a relief of stress, an unwinding of my joints and muscles, a sense of release. I could completely let go and just enjoy this experience, despite it being the most powerful opening dose I had ever had. It felt like I was opening up, letting go fully and allowing the ayahuasca to take me wherever it wanted me to go. Ready for whatever the weekend had in store. I was making a conscious effort to just be present. Occasionally I felt a tinge of my inner voice saying, “This is a bit too easy isn’t it? Too enjoyable? Am I not here to do some hard work?”. However with each such thought cropping up, I dismissed it and just focused on being present again and not allowing my thinking brain to interfere or take over. This could easily be the first insight of this workshop – when I get carried away with my thinking, lost in my thoughts, I start to miss out on the beauty of the experience of the present moment. When I focus on the now and let go of my thoughts, I am much happier, calmer and at peace.
Some visions of friends, family and work colleagues popped into view; their smiling faces, people in their own right. I felt an empathy and a sense of regret that I didn’t always treat them with respect or kindness. When I’m in bad humour and they try to raise me up from the depths, why is it that I treat them almost with contempt? If I just look them in the eye then that contempt will melt away as I see their face and remember that they are just people too. People with their own emotions and experiences. People who care for you and want the best for you. Acknowledge them for who they are and treat them with respect. This will take some work for me, but it certainly is work worth doing. How hard can it be?
Meanwhile the shamans and some musicians were belting out some great tunes (icaros) using instruments such as the accordion, bongos and guitar. I don’t have a strong recollection of the actual music, just that the experience of sound was powerful, soothing, calming. Massaging the soul. I was laughing at how good I felt. Between icaros was really nice. That stillness, the air electric with potential energy. The visuals were still very limited. I had a sense of things just slightly outside my visual range. A little confusing, but perhaps something I didn’t need to see right now. Maybe a sign of things to come?
Later I found the icaros to be a lot more intense, a bit too powerful to be honest, which took me out of the experience and back in my head. My old residual Catholic guilt bubbled to the surface occasionally, reprimanding me for enjoying myself too much. Was it supposed to be this nice? Do I need to keep thinking about my intention in order to get the most benefit from the experience? To keep focus? Feelings of not knowing what I was doing started to pop up now too. Imposter syndrome has been a common theme of my life – the feeling that everyone else knows what they’re doing and I don’t. That sooner or later I will be found out. These feelings started to annoy me as they stopped my enjoyment of the experience and I started to get caught in my thought processes again.
Just then Tanja announced the end of the ceremony, which came as a surprise for me as I still felt well gone. However, in hindsight it makes sense that my thinking brain had again taken control and that was why I was starting to get caught up in my thoughts again. I hadn’t gotten up from my mattress the entire session, which might not have been a good thing. It helps to stay involved with the group by just getting up occasionally, feeling your body, observing other people in the group. I vowed to get up more in the coming days. Get up and congratulate yourself for getting up, as this is at least some sort of positive, affirmative action. This can also be an aid for when the “imposter syndrome” feelings crop up. Just do something, anything, to be an active participant in the drama and get out of your head. I don’t need to feel bad about myself because I can’t play the guitar, or the drums – I can still be an active participant in some other way.
During sharing, when each member of the group explains a little about their experience from the day before and their expectations for the day to come, a few people talked about “going deeper”. These people were relatively experienced participants in the ayahuasca ceremonies, some of them having taken part in a workshop only a couple of months earlier. I wondered to myself what this really meant. Had I ever gone deeper? What does going deep really mean? I felt like I had only been scratching the surface, with a little too much control in my mind. Again I asked myself if I needed to keep repeating my intentions to myself? Or can I just let whatever comes come to me? I vowed to myself to just relax, let go and be curious. To be more engaged and less passive. If something frightening or confusing pops up, just approach it with curiosity. Could it teach me something?
In bullet point form I wrote before the day’s ceremony:
- You will come back (=> no fear)
- Open doors (=> be curious)
- Open heart (=> be vulnerable)
- Open path (=> clear decisions)
A last note I made was on the so-called “Default Mode Network“, which I first heard about in Michael Pollan’s book. This is a relatively recent hypothesis on certain areas of the brain that are active when a person is at rest but not focussed on a specific task. The person may be day-dreaming, thinking about past or future events, or thinking about other people’s intentions. The default mode network appears to be quietened when a person is meditating or under the influence of a psychedelic. I suspect this area is hyperactive in my own brain, as I am often caught up in thinking, and so I vowed to let the ayahuasca disable it!
I had never felt so relaxed and ready as I did when I drank my first cup that day, and it really showed. The opening ceremony appeared to have prepared me perfectly for the second day’s ceremony. My earlier question of what is means to “go deeper” was emphatically answered. This was without doubt the most intense experience I had ever had. The first time I had completely let go, opened up and said YES to everything the experience threw at me. It was also the most ayahuasca I had ever consumed in a day’s session – I went back for more on 3 occasions (although not full glasses), which was a novel experience for me.
This ayahuasca journey was very much an experience deep within my own body. It was warm and energising, coursing through me and releasing any tension and stress I was feeling. My stomach churned, not entirely pleasant but felt as if my bowels were been cleansed and unknotted (which may call for a toilet break at some point). I have never gotten sick (purged) under the influence of ayahuasca, which is a little unusual. However it definitely feels like it does a job on my insides, which can result in a touch of diarrhoea either during or after the ceremony. I squirmed on my mattress, loving how it felt to be so alive as the energy of the ayahuasca pulsed through me.
A little like the day before, there were virtually no visuals for me during this ceremony. It was almost as if my vision was stuck – if I closed my eyes there was some static image of something like an elevator or train station in a video-game setting, but without any movement or progression. This was very strange for me, not something I had experienced before. I had no idea what it was supposed to mean, if anything. However, the upside was that I had nothing to be distracted by, as in the past I had often become wrapped up in the visuals and couldn’t always make sense of them.
Some visuals I did have were more of a masculine flavour, which is also unusual for me. It was at times when I was relatively passive on my mattress, the gesturing figures appeared to be saying “What, you don’t care about what we have to show you? Not interested?”, to which I would reply “I do care, but is it not ok to be tired?”. I decided to get up and go to the toilet, where I then had the following insight: using being tired as an excuse to say NO to life. Letting life pass you by and not doing the things that are good for you or make you happy because you just want to turn away and curl up in a ball. I spend far too much time in my life being tired or hungover, which robs me of the energy to do these things with the spare time I do have. The best way of breaking this negative spiral is to take action – DO SOMETHING. Don’t stay motionless stuck, in your head, complaining of being tired or whatever. This thinking perpetuates the spiral as it drains you even further of your energy. Not a bad insight to have sitting on the toilet!
This peptalk in the toilet paved the way for the rest of the ceremony, where I finally opened up to the possibility of drinking ayahuasca again in the same session (which I had never done before). I was to drink three more times. I was so present for the vast majority of the ceremony. This really was how life should feel! Energy, joy, motivation, inspiration, enthusiasm, curiosity. Being hungover and tired is the absolute opposite of these feelings!
The music was, as always, a very big part of creating this energy. I have never heard the accordion being played in this way before. How, played slowly, it seemed to stretch and contract the very fabric of my being, pulling emotions from me as if on demand. I found myself in tears, bawling at how much I missed my friends and family in Ireland. How much I missed Ireland itself. It felt good to let this emotion out, as I often repress it in order to get on with my daily life. It was nice to just be with this melancholy for a while – its ok to miss your home. Just feel it. As if on cue, one of the musicians started up a song with a chorus line something like “Go home to where your roots are, fly over the ocean” – quite apt timing!
More tears were shed as I felt the intense loneliness that being single over a longer period of time can induce. Past rejections. The yearning in my heart for someone to share my life with, that has been so sorely lacking. These were possibly tears of self-pity, although I was given a clue as to what I was doing wrong. Indecisiveness, uncertainty, lack of self-confidence and reluctance to commit. Soft. I was shown the powers of attraction, the feminine desiring the masculine – strong, assertive, confident, protective.
There were also plenty of bongos, sound bowls, tambourines, violins and of course the beautiful singing voices of the shamans and the musicians to steer us this way and that, drawing out our emotions and helping with the release. Another simple message from a song declared, “you are worthy of love”. This is often the case with these icaros or chants – they have a simple but telling message, which can have an enormous effect on you while vulnerable and open under the influence of ayahuasca. My thoughts were drawn towards Sélene and Matiás. I saw that life was something to be celebrated – a miracle and a joy. This situation is, of course, not ideal, and naturally quite complicated. However, it’s not something to feel guilty about or to hide away from people. It is what it is, and you will do your best in the situation. Guilt is pointless and meaningless. It doesn’t achieve anything whatsoever. Life can be hard, and is often complicated, but if you just say YES, open up and take affirmative action then you will make things work!
Another very powerful song showed the true power of the feminine – feisty, feline, strong and assertive. This really was some performance from the shamans, and was so powerful it pulled me out of my own experience a little and gave me an impression of being at a concert. A show with a difference. These women were transformed, goddess-like, totally in control. I was in a space where I wondered why I was ever afraid of coming here, and that I would rather never leave! My body pulsing, the experience of sound so immersive, the feminine presence of ayahuasca all around me, powerful yet benevolent. This was the deepest connection I had ever felt with the spirit of ayahuasca, the most comfortable I have felt in that realm.
I felt as though I had broken through to a point where I didn’t fear the experience anymore. You are safe, as long are you are open to it. I thought that I had finally understood the purpose and pattern of the ceremony – first you need to work through the guilt, grief, anger, pain or sorrow in order to experience the bliss towards the end. The bliss is like a reward for making it through the hard work at the beginning of the ceremony. The music does seem to get more positive, uplifting and celebratory towards the end of the ceremony, encouraging people to get up and dance. Having committed fully meant that I could participate fully and thus gain maximum benefit. Experiencing the difficulty, pain and sorrow are actually part of the benefit. Fear will inevitably come again, but its mostly in the waiting and wondering that a certain anxiousness can arise. Once you commit and go with it, then the fear will fall away and you will deal with whatever comes up.
While looking around at all the musicians and singers, I felt such respect for them and what the were doing. However, while looking at the other “ordinary” members of our group, some of whom were playing a tambourine, or dancing or even just smiling or laughing, I had the realisation that each person is a character in this giant play. Everyone brings something to the table and has a role to play. Each person is important in their own way. It was so nice to feel love for other people like this – an empathy and respect, which is often so hard to feel in the daily grind when I go around thinking other people are idiots! Each of us is important and deserving of love.
It felt like an eternity but finally the ceremony was brought to a close after quite a few encores from the musicians! I was so tired at times during this session, having been in full flow almost 10 hours. It really helped to just sit or stand sometimes, get water, walk around, sit by the alter. This ceremony was certainly a resounding success from my perspective, and I was overjoyed that I had been gifted such a positive overall experience.
On the third day I was feeling very positive and relaxed, looking forward to the next ceremony. As it transpired, there was a negative vibe in the group, as there had been an incident the day before between a guy and a girl that I had been totally unaware of until now. I was definitely nervous when the ceremony got underway – how was it going to pan out with such a negative energy in the group to begin with? This could well be a whole new experience of ayahuasca for me. And it most definitely was.
After drinking our first cup, there was to be no group activity this time, so we were all just going to sit and wait for the effects to come on. This was a nervous wait and it took a while for anybody to show any signs of the effects. Slowly, slowly I started to get some slight visuals as I lay on my mattress. Symmetric, spiral patterns started to flow as Mama Ayahuasca made her entrance. A few others started sobbing softly and a couple of others were purging. When the first icaro kicked in, it was extremely dark and aggressive. This was really like witchcraft – clicking, scratching, chanting sounds that forced me to be present. Dark and scary, huge dark figures pointed their fingers at me. Accusatory. Forcing me to accept responsibility for the wrongs I had done in the past. Accepting responsibility is not the same as feeling guilty or admitting guilt. Taking responsibility and acting from there is a much more positive reaction to having made a mistake.
I squirmed uncomfortably on my mattress as the dark energy swirled through the room. My stomach really churned painfully. I tried not to think and to just be there, stay present. I thought to myself that this negative vibe is much bigger than myself, it was more like a group energy – group therapy. I sat up at times to observe the rest of the group as we each battled on our own front. I felt I had to accept the darkness and stick with it, even though it was extremely uncomfortable and frightening. So much for yesterday thinking that I was over the fear of the ayahuasca experience!
I took a toilet break to get a little respite from the negativity in the room. My mattress neighbour stood by the bathroom door, pale and sick looking. He was having a rough time and couldn’t leave the safety zone near the toilet, in case of emergency. I was feeling jittery myself and after an anxious moment sitting on the toilet I hurried out of the claustrophobic cubicle. I was really in the throngs of the ayahuasca now, my skin was pale and sweating. I looked thin, pale and vulnerable in the mirror. Just a scared little animal. My neighbour asked me how I was doing and I hurriedly answered that it was a different experience anyway. Without elaborating further, I returned to the relative safety of my mattress.
A change of music lightened the mood again. The shamans played these flutes that created these amazing jungle sounds – like birds, insects and animals. I felt transported to a rainforest environment. Slowly it was starting to feel like it was ok to enjoy the experience again. This felt more like the ayahuasca journey I was used to from before; heavy visuals – futuristic, sleek, smooth. The patterns churning and evolving constantly. It was amazing the difference between yesterday and today – yesterday was all body and hardly any visuals, and today I could only lie on my mattress captivated by the “lightshow”. I remember asking how I could become a part of this wonderful realm and the emphatic answer I received was that I already was! I felt tears of gratitude for being lucky enough to be a part of this fantastical place. So immense and ever-changing, an eternal fractal universe. Not like a universe in our familiar material terms though. Here there were no stars, planets, galaxies or even space. Nothing could be grasped. There was no touch or even vision. Everything was just immersive.
I felt my identity melting, dissolving into the whole. I could only tell myself to try to stay with it, be present. I started losing myself and began passing into other forms of being. I briefly became a woman, when stretching my leg up in front of me I laughed at the high-heels on my feet. With curiosity I felt what it was like to be a woman if only for a very brief instant. I then became an apelike creature, long arms and hair-covered body and fierce teeth. I became a dog. I became this other guy with features I didn’t recognise, an annoying fairy-like creature. I was totally carried away with the flow, swept around in the vastness of consciousness. A raft adrift on a vast ocean without an anchor. This might sound scary, but at this point I wasn’t at all afraid. I was just allowing myself to go through all these forms and trying to stay with the experience.
I sat up as one of the shamans started up with the slow accordion again. I hung my head forwards and downwards as the sound pulled at my very being. I could feel my brain being twisted and turned, stretched and contracted, pulled in all directions. This was a very physical sensation where my head was being torn open. My head felt hot as if I had my brain in a microwave (at least if I could guess how that feels!). Now it immediately springs to mine the title of Daniel Pinchbeck’s novel, “Breaking Open the Head“. This felt exactly like my head being broken open. At least I was excused from having to think for now, as there is no way I could logically explain what was going on. This was far too much for my human brain to make any sense of right now. I felt humble and tiny in the presence of this awesome power.
Eventually I started to come back a bit more into my body, slowly realising that I was indeed a person. Yet who I was still wasn’t entirely clear. This annoying small fairy with curly hair and balding head was still a strange presence. Who was this person? An aspect of myself I don’t like? Slowly I came back more into myself, remembering my own name, remembering the concept of living in a country. Remembering the concept of time and days – that there was a yesterday and that this is today. I was really happy to be back to this space again, where I am conscious enough that I am myself yet still fully immersed in the ayahuasca realm. I realised yet again that every time I arrive “here”, its like I’ve forgotten what it was like to be there, and now I’m reminded of it again. Its very hard to explain this sense of familiarity that seems to evaporate once not under the influence of the medicine.
I was lying on my mattress, still far off whenever I closed my eyes, when all of a sudden I could hear this sound like crashing waves. There were these plings from a triangle that seemed to be emanating out of every part of the room. I opened my eyes to see if I could make any sense of these sounds. I watched carefully as the two shamans walked around the room creating this incredible stereo sound experience. The crashing waves instrument was, as I found out later, called an ocean drum. The shaman slowly moved in a circle through the room, occasionally swirling around like a whirling dervish to send a fresh wave crashing over the group. This was an amazingly effective sound and I’m glad I opened my eyes to see how the shamans controlled this stereo experience.
Other songs and mantras followed, with more simple messages about self-forgiveness, love and joy of being. Pulling the heart strings and bringing tears as well as smiles and laughter. I could only laugh at how lucky I was to be a part of this spectacle – again having survived the more difficult beginning, I was being treated to an epic journey of sound, visuals and emotion. I was on my feet now, glad to be able to use my legs and feel my body again. I had a total of three servings this ceremony – topping up a couple of times with just half a glass. So a total of two glasses had the potency to send me that far off into some other dimension!
Towards the end I struggled really to comprehend what I had just gone through, and if there was a purpose or a lesson to be learned from it. But for now I just tried to relax and listen to the music as the session wound down. I could wonder at what it all meant but my head was too tired to even contemplate figuring out a logical meaning to it. A closing song with a whole bunch of people playing the bongos got everyone on their feet, dancing and smiling – we had survived another day!
Again on this, the fourth day of the workshop, I felt calm and relaxed before drinking ayahuasca again. As the effects started to take hold, however, I started to feel a slight resistance and tension. Just go with it, I tried to tell myself, but to no avail. In my head I was asking myself why was I here again? What was my intention? I felt myself dissolving once more, the sense of my self dissipating again. This really wasn’t what I wanted to go through again, after the intensity of yesterday. Today, I thought to myself, was surely more about integrating what I had gone through the previous days?
Things started to become confusing as I still resisted the dissolution of my self. My self image was distorting, again I seemed to appear as the annoying guy from the day before. I didn’t really get what this meant. I was hanging on to my own self, constantly asking myself my name, where I was from and where I lived. But slowly these concepts started to make no sense and it required a huge amount of mental energy to cling on to the remnants of my self-identity. I also had this weird impression of everything appearing to have a goat-like character. Like every figure or entity I saw was somehow like a goat. Not necessarily a goat, but strong goat-like features or characteristics. I had no idea what this could mean.
This session was so far annoying, frustrating – I couldn’t let go. When the offer of another glass came around, I wondered if I should dare. Initially I thought no, don’t ruin what has so far been a positive workshop – don’t go and push it too far now and undo all the good work that you’ve done. In the end I did have an extra small glass to try and push me through to another level, beyond this confusing uncertainty. Unfortunately, the weird, confusing underlying feelings remained. I couldn’t make sense of anything I was seeing, or how I was feeling.
I got up to go to the toilet, to try to break the negative spell. The toilet was an inhospitable place though – my body appeared apelike and flimsy. The bright, fluorescent sheen from the floor and walls created a claustrophobic feel. I was freaking out as I couldn’t find my familiar self-image to cling to. I looked in the mirror while splashing water on my face by the sink, which helped to stabilise myself a little. I returned to my mattress. Whenever I closed my eyes, my visions were still dominated by goats and an unfamiliar self, so I decided there was nothing for it but to stand up and keep my eyes open, in an effort to stabilise myself further in the present. I stood with legs spread more than shoulder’s width apart and swayed with the music. I tried not to think, just focus on the music and feel my body. This seemed to help re-centre myself and I started to feel more like myself. I felt my warrior self rise, making me stand tall and proud. Just being present.
I should’ve stood up much earlier. Sitting or standing is definitely a way of getting out of your head a bit and making you feel more present. Lying down leads to an internal journey, going down the rabbit-hole and forgetting yourself. The negativity lingered all the way to the end of the ceremony, however. I wondered why it was that I should dissolve again, how such an experience today, this last day, was going to help me integrate anything I had learned this workshop. I worried that losing my sense of self again today would lead to a difficult reintegration process afterwards. It was strange to me that this happened to me on the last day, after three days of completely letting go and feeling at home in the ayahuasca realm. This last day I just couldn’t let go. The fact was that this entire session was confusing for me – I constantly tried to remember what I was doing there, clinging to some sort of intention, purpose and sense of self.
In hindsight I realise that I just couldn’t take any more this final ceremony. I had already had such utterly intense experiences the previous days, leaving my brain and body tired. I just couldn’t deal with any more ego-dissolution that final day.
Now, weeks after the event, I can only speculate as to what the actual meaning of this ego-dissolution could be for me. One theory is that I have lost my roots and am not entirely sure who I am in Sweden. My character changes depending on the language I speak or who I speak with. I lack a purpose and direction and thus don’t have a strong sense of self to cling to in real life either. Another thing is, of course, that my logical mind (and ego) was definitely too active and struggling for control on this last day again. It is this battle of the ego to stay relevant that is so draining, when trying to logically process and categorise the ayahuasca experience. It may have been worth taking another glass to push past this difficult phase, where I was still able to think, although this is easy to say when at the time I was having a hard time making sense of anything. But it seemed to me the usual issue of becoming stuck in my head, lost in a thought pattern and unable to break free from it. Although I guess from the insights I had on previous days, the way of breaking free is to take some affirmative action and become an active participant in some way. These loops won’t be resolved by thinking and rationalising my way out of them. I need to centre myself in my body. Take stock. Maybe doing more yoga and meditation will actually help me notice these patterns quickly and give me more tools to take action in future.
And so my workshop finished on a slightly disappointing note. I was a bit annoyed at myself for not being able to let go fully, but I could also understand why I couldn’t. I felt a little outside the group as everyone else (except one guy was in deep, intense mourning right until the end) seemed ecstatic and in a good place as the musical chants wound up and up. It was fun taking part in some singing myself, as coached by one of the musicians to get all guys singing one part and all girls another in order to create a nice harmony. Although I was definitely not feeling the effects of the ayahuasca anymore, I congratulated myself for at least being a participant right until the end.
On a final note, I vowed to investigate what the goat symbolism could possibly have meant once I got home. I have a book called “The Book of Symbols“, given to me as a gift from a dear friend, which is a study of Jungian archetypal images. There I found the description of a goat as cunning, intelligent, hard to contain, temperamental, independent and capricious. A sign of fertility. All good, if I was to assume that the goat is my spirit animal! Yet there was a darker side, a lustful, compulsive, sexual drive, wild and dangerous if not consciously tamed. The following is a quote from the book:
“The fear of such unbound passions has led some to equate them with evil. The good sheep stay with the flock…, while the potent, feisty, wild, and striving goat of our imagination stirs trouble and follows his own often shameless lead, at the same time often attaining the highest heights”.
So if I am to read anything into this goat symbolism that popped up on my last day, it could be both a challenge and a warning to me to follow its lead – to be bold, independent and unafraid to be different and to take action, but also consciously avoiding the darker depths that I could be lured into in terms of unchecked passion or lust. At the very least food for thought!