A Sacred Cermony – An Experience of Ayahuasca – Part II

Saturday

The second “work” was to begin around 11 o’clock the following morning. I awoke early, perhaps around 7.30 as the acoustics in our circular room meant that if one or two were up and about, I would be obliged to follow. Needless to say the night’s sleep was filled with vivid dreams as the daime tea continued to do its work. I still felt my mind was quite rested and physically I felt good, though a little tired. In the kitchen, some more experienced heads were indulging in a spot of breakfast, despite the official word being that fasting should be done at least 4 hours before the ritual. Due to a touch of over-eating the night before, I decided to pass on breakfast and I perhaps felt a little more at ease following the official line of advice. The chatter over breakfast was invariably about people’s hopes and fears for the coming session as well as further reminiscing on the activities of the night before.

After such a positive experience the previous night, I still couldn’t help a slight sense of foreboding about the coming session. As previously mentioned, this was to be the day people got shit done. Any personal or emotional baggage could be dredged up regardless of where or when it was from. Dark demons could be faced. It seemed unpredictable and uncontrollable. I wasn’t even sure if I had any baggage to dredge up, so I was worried that there might be things that I had suppressed or consciously forgotten. Obviously I was a little afraid of what I might find if I went digging!

Norberto invited us to gather around again. We each gave a little status update to the group on how we were feeling and what our hopes were for the day. Some good, some bad. Either way, we were ready to begin. The ritual began in the same way as the previous evening, breaking into the Aya-, Aya-, Aya-huasca chant and forming our communion-like procession up to meet the shaman priest with the crystal jug filled with the sacred brew. Again, I was met by Norberto’s examining look when my turn arrived. He measured a shot, judging presumably by whatever mental and emotional vibes he can pick up from me. I believe he can see much deeper into a person than you can imagine. My eyes alone may betray a lot of feelings. I perform my customary nod and retreat to a spot by the altar. This time the bitterness is more palpable, although still not unpleasant. I swallowed, swept the glass with my finger and promptly sucked the finger. Right then, here we go again!

This time it was Matthew who put us through our paces with some stretching and breathing exercises. Some required dedicated focus as a good deal of coordination and balance was necessary. Again the exercises had the desired effect – body relaxed, mind focussed on the task ahead. The tingling had begun in my feet again, a welcome sensation. Next on the agenda was another novelty. We were to choose a partner and look into their eyes with a persistent gaze, without glancing away as we so often do in everyday life. Blinking was thankfully allowed, so it wasn’t so much of a staring competition! Norberto, our shaman guide, explained how rarely it is that we meet each others eyes in modern life, especially in large cities and towns where people prefer to avoid eye contact and maintain anonymity. Even with friends and loved ones prolonged eye contact is mostly avoided, otherwise social discomfort can arise. We have forgotten how it feels to look deeply into another’s eyes, which, don’t forget, have been referred to as the gateway to the soul even in our own western culture.

My chosen partner was a long-term friend, whom I’d first met twelve years ago when we shared a room together in university. Having known each other so long, we had never looked each other in the eye as we did for the next few minutes. As first, I admittedly felt a little uncomfortable holding eye contact longer than the social norm. That faded though as I noticed with an internal giggle that I could only focus on one eye at a time! Paul’s face also took on an altered appearance as everything around the eyes was blurry and changeable. After settling into our constant gaze I could feel what I could best describe as a strong energetic bond between us. Paul, I could see, was feeling it a bit stronger than I. He began to sway gently on his feet at first, muscles fully relaxed. Next his eyelids began to flutter and close. Mama Ayahuasca had come to him early, I thought. Later he was to describe seeing a flow of ancient symbols and knowledge pouring out from my pupils in a steady stream into his. Some sort of gateway had been opened, for which I had become an unwitting channel! As a sidenote, I would like to mention a scene in The Spirit Molecule documentary, where one participant in the DMT study describes seeing symbols pouring out of a single point – an uncanny similarity in experience.

Exercise over, Paul had to take his place on his mattress while I had to find a new partner. This time we were instructed to find a partner of the opposite gender to the one we previously had. I wandered awkwardly a few steps until my eyes met Suzanne’s, a German girl whom I hadn’t spoken to as yet. This was to be a different experience altogether – holding eye contact with a complete stranger for a prolonged period of time. Looking into Suzanne’s deep brown eyes turned out to be quite a profound experience. After a short time I became once again energetically locked with her eyes and fell into a quite trance-like state. The intensity of the warmth and love emanating from her eyes was almost overpowering. It was like looking into your mother’s eyes again as a child and feeling the love and security of her presence totally enveloping you. Quite similar to the warm, loving energies of the night before, this was an entirely positive way for me to begin the second work.

For others, the beginning wasn’t so positive. One woman had got straight down to business within the first few minutes of the ritual. She was already poised over the little blue bucket at the foot of her mattress, vomiting violently. Getting sick is quite common, it should be noted, and is even considered an important part of the ceremony. It is seen as a cleansing procedure, a way of getting up painful physical or mental problems and ejecting them from the body. Once out, the participant is free to move on from it.

By now we were all back in our familiar position on our mattresses, preparing for our individual journeys. Strange things were starting to happen. Shouts of terror rang out from one section of the room. Whatever demons this girl was facing, it was very unpleasant and she wasn’t willing to continue. There was however no turning back now. The ayahuasca forces you to face facts, whether it is pleasant or not. Despite her fear, she at least wasn’t alone. The many helpers and guides were on hand for precisely these kinds of situations. They can help talk a person through the difficult periods, with the hope that the demons will be confronted and dealt with rather than being further repressed. Others were by now in floods of tears, moaning and sobbing, in their own world of grief. As another sidenote, I would like to add that the acoustics in the circular building, combined with our heightened senses from the ayahuasca, meant that every sound – shout, moan, sob or giggle – was amplified and always seemed to come from right beside or behind you. There was no avoiding that we were all in this together, our experiences were intricately linked, yet still we were very much alone in our own world of experience.

The utter strangeness of the events around me had certainly had an unsettling effect on me. If anyone was to walk in on us now, they would surely think that they had walked straight into a mental asylum. Many were quite animated now. Not all negative, it should be pointed out. Some were in fits of giggles, others smiled widely and still others danced, hopped and skipped about the room. One quite memorable moment was when one participant, who had been conversing with himself for a time, suddenly declared the state to be corrupt and treacherous bastards. “The bastards”, he repeated over and over, “the state is corrupt, the treacherous bastards”. This generated quite a ripple of laughter around the room. I for one laughed at the mere concept of the state, which seemed totally meaningless now. The crying and the shouting had got to me though, so I decided to get outside for a little fresh air and gather my own thoughts.

As I walked around in the sunshine outside, I tried to take stock of things. Why hadn’t I gotten sick? Where were my demons and why didn’t I have anything to cry about? These were all genuine questions, probably stemming from my Catholic guilt – I shouldn’t be enjoying this, should I? I hadn’t felt much of an effect from the tea yet, probably because I was analysing everything too much, my mind fighting so hard to not let go. Every feeling, sensation or thought that came up was hurriedly assessed, trying to predict where things may be leading. Well, I thought, maybe another drop of the sacred brew will help me overcome the mind and step further into the realm of pure feeling, the heart. It was time to go back inside.

Norberto soon announced that they would be offering a second opportunity to take the ayahuasca. This time they would go around to each individual in their place, rather than lining up together. When my turn arrived, Norberto asked how I felt. I said that I hadn’t felt much of an effect and that I thought I was distracted by the activity around me. I needed to let go. He asked whether I had gotten sick, to which I replied in the negative. “Ok,”, said the shaman, looking deep into my eyes, “this one is a big one”. He poured the thick, syrupy substance from the glass jug into the shot glass, filling it right to the brim. My by now customary nod of the head followed and I began to drink it down. The taste certainly seemed to be becoming more and more bitter, each glass was a little harder to swallow. Still, tea drank, now I was once again entering unchartered territory. This time I wouldn’t have to wait long for Mama Ayahuasca to come.

Things are quite hard to explain from this point. Again, time began to dissolve and so what happened and in what chronological order are hard to define. Similar to the night before, strong bodily sensations started to blossom within me. Everything felt good to the touch and I lay there writhing and stretching like a playful kitten on my mattress. Yawning was also a surprisingly nice sensation! I wasn’t expecting visuals like the night before, as we now sat in total daylight. I was very mistaken however, as our room began its transformation all over again. The ceiling began to come alive, the waving, rippling effect of the wooden slats swept over and back. This time there was a very distinct sound accompanying it, perhaps best described as a writhing slithering sound of snake-skin on snake-skin. Everything was alive, nothing was static and the visuals churned and swirled in an ever-transforming tapestry. Before the weekend, I had expected to visualise natural landscapes, jungles, animals and birds. What I saw was quite different – everything had a strangely synthetic, other-worldly feel. Words fail me now as I try to bring it into language. There was a very distinct texture to everything I saw too, including the very air itself. Everything was vibrating, humming, purring. I felt a presence all around me, hands reaching out to me, beckoning and pointing, eager to show me more. I have to say it felt like a very playful, inviting presence – far from the menacing presence others appeared to be dealing with.

It had become entirely normal to see people on all fours with heads in buckets, vomiting and retching violently, people in tears with shoulders hunched and heaving with grief, others laughing and giggling maniacally. I noticed myself laughing at people getting sick or even people crying, without the slightest feeling of guilt on my part. At one point, however, I found myself in a fit of tears. I was like a child, loud, uncontrollable sobs, face stained with a steady stream of tears. I hadn’t cried in years, especially not in front of others. I was crying for everything I missed in life – my family and friends back home in Ireland, my brother in New York, my late granny who had passed away around three years ago. I realised just how much I loved all these people, and that I couldn’t spend even a fraction of the time I’d like to in their company. Photo images popped into my mind of those closest to me, clear as day, all of them smiling and happy. Warmth, love and compassion flooded my being and I cried uncontrollably. I even realised how much I missed my girlfriend back in Sweden, despite having been with her only a couple of days previously and was to see her again in just a few days time! Visions of my life in Sweden were also thrown at me, again all positive, showing me what I was lucky to have. What I felt Mama Ayahuasca was telling me was that it was ok to miss everyone at home – the loving bond I had was very strong and wouldn’t be broken. She was also showing me that I had a lot to be thankful for in my present situation in Sweden, and that by leaving that behind I would have many people and places that I would also miss. All in all, things were good – be happy and grateful for what you have. Also make sure you show people how much you care and that they are loved.

So, the tears subsided and soon gave way to happy laughter. Laughter just as uncontrollable as the preceding tears! What a total turn-around! I could hear Paul laughing at me, which only fueled my fire and made me laugh more. Now my tears of sadness soaking into my pillow were joined by tears of joy. The circle was complete.

The day’s journey, however was far from complete. Things were only getting weirder and weirder. Now it wasn’t just the ceiling that appeared different, but the entire room was completely transformed. It appeared other-worldly. We seemed to be in a bubble completely separated from that which we call reality. It occurred to me that this seemed similar to a pantheon of Roman gods, lounging in their heavenly abode. People sang and danced, rapt in a swirl of creativity and freedom. I, on the other hand, was rooted firmly to my mattress, capable only of wriggling and writhing from one position to another. Not to forget yawning, of course. I was witnessing an amazing burst of creative energy, to which I was but a passive observer. Else on the hauntingly beautiful harmonium, singing hymns and repetitive mantras. The shaman played soft and gentle melodies on the guitar. Most notably I thought was Gráinne on the harp. I had been fascinated by the harp first as a child at Brú Ború at the foot of the Rock of Cashel. An incredibly delicate and captivating sound and very typically Irish.It suited the mood perfectly and I was amazed to hear afterwards that it was the first time that Gráinne had played in front of people and had only been learning for a few months. One wouldn’t have guessed. Besides the wonderful musical contributions, some random bursts of poetry also burst forth, to be granted generous, almost rapturous applause.

I felt by this stage a little lost and confused. Nothing was particularly threatening, so it wasn’t that I was afraid as such. I just seemed to be drifting in a timeless void, the strangeness of the scene around me finally starting to overwhelm me. I had no real idea of where I was at this point. I remembered vaguely that I was here for a weekend, but days or hours just didn’t have any meaning that I could grasp. Simply put, I didn’t know how to get back to what I considered normal and I didn’t know if I was ever going back. While the creative energy blossomed and bloomed all around me, I felt very much in the role of observer rather than participant, and what I was observing was too fantastical for me to fully grasp. I had spent some time kneeling with my little bucket at the ready, feeling nauseous as my stomach churned and tied itself into knots. A little dry retching was all I could manage though, there was to be no physical cleansing for me. I do hate getting sick and normally avoid it at all costs, so I think my mind was battling my body in this regard. My physical discomfort was spreading – I had broken into a cold sweat and lay curled in the foetal position, trying to ease my stomach cramps. After a time I felt totally unable to move. My visions were still powerful – the eternally churning wheel of creation turned relentlessly before my eyes. There was no turning out the lights. I needed only two things in life now – a drink of water and a trip to the toilet to relieve my bladder. A bottle of water stood directly behind my head, only inches away. The toilet was a mere 10 or 15 metres away from where my mattress lay. Both seemed miles out of reach, an impossible goal. I could vaguely hear the shaman announce the end of the ceremony, and realised everyone was standing again in the circle, hands joined and chanting their thanks to Mother Earth. I was still so far gone, detached completely from my surroundings. Michel the friendly giant offered his hand in warm gesture of understanding and I could only hold his hand and gaze in awe at the utter godliness of him towering over me. Paul, I recall, also tried to talk to me about something but I was totally incapable of conversation – words were unrelated symbols that together made no sense.

Finally, as the others chatted and laughed around me, the medicine loosened its grip enough for me to take an almighty thirst-quenching gulp of water. I was also building the courage to embark on the by now urgent journey to the bathroom. With wobbly legs, I stumbled my way across the room to the toilet, which was luckily unoccupied. I promptly relived my complaining bladder and sat trying to get a grip on myself. I couldn’t shit despite my willingness and desire to do so. Suddenly I realised how claustrophobic the toilet was and decided at once to flee. Clumsily I buttoned my trousers and tried to escape. There was a knack to opening the door, which in my panic I had forgotten. I weakly threw my shoulder against it to no avail. What a way to die I thought, caged up in a toilet. Comparisons to Elvis would be made later! Finally though I managed to get it open, by chance re-discovering the knack and was met by a much welcomed fresh cool breeze. By this point I was white-faced, dripping with cold sweat and feeling very light-headed. I wasn’t sure if I still needed the toilet, so I was reluctant to leave. I was on the floor on all fours, with my forehead pressed against the cold wall. Suddenly a pair of feet appeared back between my legs outside the door. I was caught, I thought, they had found me. I waited, but the feet didn’t move and nothing was said. At last, I decided I had to turn myself in and give up. I arose slowly and turned facing my discoverer who was none other that our shaman. As if facing a wild, cornered animal he hung back in an open, non-threatening manner. He asked if I was ok, to which I replied that I couldn’t decide if I needed the toilet or not, and was too tired to make the trip back to my mattress. How tired I really was! Norberto said that I just needed to lie down, calm my blood pressure and relax. He guided me carefully back and I collapsed gratefully onto my mattress again. I thanked him and lay for quite some time dozing, allowing the medicine to finally release me from its grip, letting a normal complexion return to things.

To say the least I was glad to be back in my own body, with time reinstated and the familiar feel of our human reality almost fully restored. The kitchen beckoned with another royal vegetarian feast awaiting. The usual excited chatter was in full swing as I entered. I was relieved to be a part of the group again, no longer lost and cut adrift, unable to partake in the activity. First off I apologised to Paul for totally blanking him earlier when he tried to make conversation. Obviously no hard feelings there, it was probably plain as day that I was still away with the fairies. Then followed the recollections and stories from the last five or six hours of the ritual. I remember an overwhelming sense of relief and that I had really gotten through something tough that day. I’m not sure I’d go as far as to say I experienced the death of my ego, but there clearly was a time when I couldn’t tell if I would be coming back to what I knew as reality.

Talking with the others really helped to put things into perspective. Hearing how others went through similar experiences, visions and emotions was comforting, as was speaking to people who had gone through a whole lot worse than I had – dark, threatening and frightening experiences. People had really gone through a lot, it seemed like years worth of experience packed into a few hours. The mood was bright and positive that evening as seemingly everyone felt a real sense of having taken on something difficult and coming through unscathed on the other side. Some had faced up to some dark demons from the past and present, so really I should count myself lucky to have had such a positive experience overall, with feelings of love to the fore.

Later I talked a little to Norberto about my fear of not coming back to reality. He said that he never feared for me as with the ayahuasca one goes into one’s inner being. Everything that is experienced is coming from and through oneself. So, unlike LSD for example, where one has a sensation of journeying into outer space and may conceivably be lost in its vastness, with ayahuasca the journey is into inner space and a coming together with Mother Earth. These were comforting words from an expert in traversing this space. I chatted further with a few others, slowly grounding myself and feeling more and more at ease. Soon it would be time for bed again, as we had an even earlier start the next day and it all began again!

Click here for Part III!

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A Sacred Cermony – An Experience of Ayahuasca – Part I

This is written as a memorandum of the weird and wonderful events I was a part of in the west of Ireland between the 20th and 22nd July with a group called Céu de Amsterdam who are affiliated with the Santo Daime church in Brazil. I had an urge to put my thoughts and feelings onto paper while my memories were still fresh, so that I could us such a document for reference when doubtful of what I really experienced, as well as a refresher before I take part in such a ritual again. The ceremony took part over three days and I will divide my posts into three separate parts, one for each day.

Build-up

The day leading up to the beginning of the course was an enjoyable one. We were advised that registration would take place around 18.00 on the Friday evening. With Paul the designated driver, we headed west from Dublin chatting excitedly about the coming weekend. We arrived early and first came across the friendly giant Michel, who reached warmly into the car to shake our hands and welcome us. We parked up and went to check out our home for the weekend,  a unique building, dome-shaped with a gently sloping roof with green felt covering. It blended easily into the surrounding landscape.

After stepping inside we were greeted by the main organiser of the weekend retreat, Rini, and our resident musician for the weekend, Else. After a brief stint helping Else move some awkwardly unorthodox tables, we were told that they could continue their preparations while we had a look around. We were quite literally in the middle of nowhere, without a town or even a nearby house in sight. A stunning wild landscape typical to the west of Ireland. It didn’t take us long to complete our explorations of the site. An organic vegetable patch, greenhouse and eco-toilet were the highlights!

We need not have feared the possibility of oncoming boredom, however, as other weekend participants began to trickle in. Soon it became clear that there were people not only from all over the world, but of all ages and from all walks of life. A Canadian, Brazilian, a couple of Germans, quite a few Englishmen, a Lithuanian and of course the Dutch organisers demonstrates the variety of foreigners present, not to mention the Irish representing a good spread of the country. A fine summer afternoon, we sat outside in the sun and made our acquaintance with the newcomers as they arrived. What struck me was how easily conversation flowed from the outset. There were few awkward silences and only the bare essential small-talk that inevitably crops up. It was apparent how relatively deep and interesting topics were already up for discussion at this early stage. Everyone had a story of how they had come to be here, what it was that had drawn them along this path.

And so, as the afternoon progressed into evening, I already felt a sense of belonging in the group, and the comfort that whatever lay ahead of us, we were somehow in it together. Any fears that I had undoubtedly been suppressing in the lead-up to the weekend subsided and I was relieved that other “normal” people were there as a culmination of their own journey. One thing that surprised me was that there were no “New Agers”, hippy types or thrill seekers there just to experience their next high. One could sense that there was serious business to be dealt with, this wasn’t simply a fad or a recreational endeavour.

After registration I was instructed to choose a mattress inside, which would be my nest for the next forty hours or so. Inside, the mattresses were laid out side-by-side by the circular room walls. What struck me was how close the mattresses were to one another! There was hardly a foot either side to the nearest neighbour. Cosy. At the foot of every second bed lay a little blue bucket and a roll of kitchen paper. These simple items would play in important role in the ceremonies to come. In the centre of the room there was a fireplace sitting in a small circular area carved out from the floor, around half a metre deep. A single step led down from the main floor, with a variety of colorful cushions adorning the step. Wooden columns rose to the ceiling, where there was perched a little wooden attic. Another curious construct in this highly unorthodox building. The domed ceiling was an array of parallel wooden lats. From the fireplace there now wafted a homely smell of burning turf.

Next on the agenda, as a new initiate, was a personal chat with our guide and shaman for the weekend, Norberto. His gaze was steady and intense, continuously seeking eye contact. Though not by any means intimidating, I must admit to slight discomfort at this, as it is not the norm for me, socially speaking. I felt a warmth and kindness in his eyes though and tried therefore to stifle my discomfort. Up for discussion was my reason for being here and what I hoped to achieve during the weekend. I related my stumbling across the great Terence McKenna as my first exposure to the world of psychedelics and the beginning of my interest in altered states of consciousness. Another powerful influence were the books of Alberto Villoldo, especially Dance of the Four Windsthe second of a two-part series. This book I had come across by chance in a bookshop in Lima, Peru, shortly after I had completed the Inca Trail and fulfilled a lifelong dream of visiting the majestic, mystical Machu Picchu. Villoldo’s book was a sensation for my imagination, telling tales of his path from being a psychologist in America, to journeying through the Andes with an Incan medicine man, to rituals with shamans in Mexico City as well as deep in the Amazon jungle. Incredible stories detailed his life-altering path to becoming an expert in altered states of awareness. Finally I spoke of Dr. Rick Strassman’s The Spirit Molecule, which describes medical research into the naturally occurring chemical DMT. Reading this book was my final realisation that I couldn’t read or watch much more of other people telling of their experiences without experimenting for myself – in order to fully grasp what people were attempting to describe, it was necessary to take the plunge and experience it for myself.

Norberto warned me of how books and films can often paint a sensational, fantastical picture of the experience and advised me not to expect some spectacular show to be put on for my pleasure. The possibility was there to have some frightening experiences, he added, and the medicine was to be carefully respected. This was not to be the next big high. Our shaman also described a little of the schedule we had ahead of us that weekend. We were to enter into the ayahuasca ritual three times – Friday night, Saturday morning and Sunday morning. Tonight’s ritual, to commence in just a couple of hours from now, was going to be the shortest and most relaxed. It was an initiation so to speak, and we were only to drink the ayahuasca, or daime tea, once. As a virgin participant, I was glad to get the opportunity of a little taste of what was to come. Saturday’s ceremony was the most daunting, where, as Norberto explained, we could go as deep as we wanted. The choice was a personal one, so one could choose how far into the mental abyss one was willing to plunge. There would be no pushing from the organisers’ side. Saturday was the day where the most difficult “work” was to be done, where the biggest revelations were to be encountered. Sunday then, was to be a day of consolidation – trying to work through any lingering problems and coming to terms with the lessons and experiences of the preceding days.

With the itinerary clear in my mind and Norberto’s words of wisdom ringing in my ears, I was free to prepare myself for the night’s activities, something I had been waiting for and building up to for six or seven years. This was to be my first experience of ayahuasca.

The Friday Night Ritual

The atmosphere was tense and restless when Norberto announced that we were ready to begin. Some were undoubtedly more apprehensive than others but I was anxious to get under way. We were to line-up in two rows, men and women separate. Hymn books earlier passed out were to be opened, and we began with a chant of Aya-, Aya-, Aya-huasca to a catchy tune. The interceding verses were in Portuguese, so the best I and the other first-timers could do was mouth along as best we could. No matter! Reminiscent of getting Communion at Mass , one by one we proceeded to the front to receive the sacred brew. My turn arrived and I stood face-to-face with the shaman. Again Norberto’s deep, penetrating gaze fixed upon me, seemingly weighing up my readiness for the experience ahead. The glass was filled, I awkwardly nodded my head in thanks. Some had opted to down it all-in-one, but I followed Paul’s lead and shuffled away to indulge alone. All the while, the ayahuasca tune was chanted aloud, the tune becoming easily familiar. I had expected a putrid tasting liquid to hit my taste buds, so I was pleasantly surprised when the first sip was far from gut-wrenching. In fact, I’d go as far to say the thick black liquid was rather nice, although with a bitter after taste! My fear of vomiting subsided, so I dived in for another swoop and sipped until the glass was emptied. The sacred brew is prepared by a very tedious and time-consuming process, we were told, so we had to be sure to swallow every drop. With (hopefully) nobody watching, I licked the glass clean. The more dignified method was, as I would later observe, to clean the glass with one’s finger and suck the finger.

After everyone had taken their medicine, we stopped our chanting and formed a circle around the fireplace area. There now stood a small table in front of the furnace, which was an altar dedicated to Mama Ayahuasca. A bowl of water stood on the table with some fresh flowers floating in it. Some small ikons or power figures also lay on the altar. We gathered around the altar, forming a ring around it. We were told to join hands and together we recited some simple prayers asking our Mother Earth to grant us Life, Love, Happiness and Open Paths.

Next we were to limber up physically in preparation for the effects of the medicine. We did some basic stretching and yoga-like exercises, which had a surprisingly calming effect, as the focus was put onto how the body felt, rather than what the mind was thinking. Standing with knees slightly bent to allow the energy flow unimpeded through the body, trying to release any tension from our body. While performing one exercise in particular, which began with knees bent and pushing the feet down hard while slowly straightening the legs, I could feel a tingling sensation beginning to manifest in my feet. In the beginning I just put it down to my feet feeling a little chilly in my socks on the cold, hard stone floor. However, Norberto urged us at the time to feel the power coming from the ground, pulling the energy up through our feet into our bodies. This was possibly the beginnings of the medicine’s effect!

Stretching done, the body nicely relaxed and gently tingling, we were directed to take up position on our mattresses for some quiet time. Now we wait for Mama Ayahuasca to come to us. My mind was racing a little, full of anticipation and thoughts of the oncoming effects. We sat on our mattresses, forming a wide circle around the room, some glancing nervously at each other. Others were perfectly still in various meditative positions. From a little fatigue and hunger, by now it being over eight hours since we had eaten, I somehow managed to doze off. One of those day-dreaming power naps with vivid, intense dreams. It couldn’t have lasted very long and when I did open my eyes again, it was clear the ayahuasca had begun to exert its force. By now fully dark outside, the room had undergone quite a transformation. The candles threw their flickering light onto the wooden ceiling, but the flickering had an unusual, extraordinary appearance to it. The whole ceiling seemed to ripple, waves passing back and forth across its expanse. Each lat rose and fell as the waves of energy flowed across it. It was a captivating sight and I had to remind myself that I was awake and this was real. I lay on my back enthralled by the light show, which I could now hear as well as see. A faint, soft rippling sound, barely audible. Everything was alive – the air itself hummed and vibrated, and the boundaries between “things” were quite blurred. Everything was a flow of pulsating energy rather than distinct, separate items.

I had also begun to notice my bodily sensations increasing in intensity, the energy pulsating gently through my entire body. A warm, glowing feeling enveloped me from head to toe, coursing through my veins. An especially strong sensation had grown in my chest, around my heart, as if pulling me up towards the ceiling. It was as if I was levitating above my mattress. I felt an incredible sense of belonging, of being welcomed with open arms. I wondered if this the feeling of oneness you often hear from people tripping on the likes of LSD or mushrooms. The energy pulsated through me, rising and falling along with the ceiling and frankly everything around me. I felt as if I was dissolving into everything else. The feel of my cotton trousers, the mattress below me and the pillow beneath my head – this was comfort like I had never felt before. To feel was literally sensational!

By now my concept of time had been thoroughly discarded. The state I found myself in required no time! I began to look around me to see how the others were doing around me. However it was quite dark and I could mostly only make out vague figures sprawled and curled on mattresses with duvets pulled tightly around. I noticed our resident shaman dutifully doing his rounds, walking carefully around the circle, ensuring everyone was alright. I realised that he too had undergone somewhat of a transformation. He didn’t just walk, but rather stalked, moving stealthily with very light steps. His face had rather sharpened shadowy features. I could sense a very tangible power emanating from him. It became very clear to me that he was the shepherd minding his flock, but rather than the biblical image of a shepherd in a white, flowing gown, he struck me as more cat-like or more specifically like the jaguar of the Amazon jungle.

I felt utterly in safe hands and could continue to drift slowly and mindfully, just enjoying the physical sensation of being and of course the audio-visual displays that accompanied it. I can’t recall exactly what kind of images I was seeing when I closed my eyes, but it was a continuously churning creation, all sorts of geometric patterns, shapes and figures. I could feel a very powerful sensation emerging from the middle of my brain, putting pressure on my sinuses and behind my forehead. It seemed to me the images were being projected from here, that I wasn’t really seeing with my eyes at all. It was much more powerful that imagining something or visions from a dream, it was much more vivid, intense and rich in texture. Later I would conclude that this may well have been an experience of the phenomena of the “Third Eye” that has such an important place in Eastern mysticism. Incidentally, Rick Strassman considers the pineal gland in the centre of the brain to be the producer of natural DMT in the brain, which he postulates could be the cause of visions, hallucinations and near-death experiences. DMT is the active ingredient in the ayahuasca brew.

After what seemed like a blissful eternity, we began our descent back to normality, guided gently by the shaman and Else’s softly sung hymns. We arose from our magic carpets, which had now settled back down to ground as plain old mattresses. Forming a circle, we again joined hands and recited the same simple mantras wishing for Life, Love, Happiness and Open Paths. Closing our first ritual, I suddenly realised how hungry I was! It was around midnight, almost twelve hours since I had last eaten.

The feast on offer was a fantastic range of organic and vegetarian products. couscous salads, breads, fresh fruit and nuts and a variety of homemade cakes and buns. All washed down with cups of herbal tea, and admittedly one good old-fashioned black tea, despite the advice to avoid caffeine. If the food was impressive enough, the conversation was sensational! An excited, even hyper-active vibe was palpable in the little kitchen out the back. Everyone was eager to share stories of their experience of the last few hours, animatedly swapping anecdotes. It was apparent to many, especially the new initiates, how difficult it was to accurately express in words. Language appeared vague and clumsy in relation to the vivid visions and sensations of the preceding experience. How does one begin to describe something one has truly never seen or felt before? Still, we gave it a shot, and it was a memorable night there together, laughing and chatting as if we had known each other for years. An overwhelmingly positive atmosphere surrounded us. It wasn’t to be a late night – everyone was tired from a long days travelling to get here, not to mention the internal travels with the ayahuasca. Tomorrow was supposedly the day when the group got down to business and got the serious work done.

Click here for Part II!

Back to Blogging

Smix does BloggingSo, I’ve been here before. Once again I’ve gotten the urge to develop my creativity – read more, think more, write more. This time I want it to have a little more longevity and substance. There are most likely millions of other blogs out there trying to be interesting and something special. A large proportion of them are not. I’m speculating here, of course, and admittedly there are many informative and useful blogs dealing with a whole range of issues.

That’s maybe where I will try to be a little different. This blog isn’t trying to be interesting to others specifically. It is more an outlet for me to gather stuff that I am interested in, as well as putting my thoughts down into words where I can really judge what I am saying and thinking with a more critical eye. The topics I discuss may of course be of interest to others, and great if they are! I welcome comments from any other interested parties so I can benefit from an outsider’s view. As long as the comments don’t end up like the “discussion” on a YouTube video, then I think we’re on the right track. I won’t hold my breath!