The mosquitos were unfortunately not done with me that night. The door to our dorm room had been open and the light was on, so there were a few specimens that had taken their place, more than willing to feast on me all night. I woke occasionally, annoyed by the high-pitched drone zeroing in on my head, which was the only exposed skin as I lay wrapped in my sleeping bag. I tried to pull a pillow over my head to cover my vulnerability, not only making it harder to sleep, but really not achieving much better protection from the mosquitos! So I had a fair few bites to show for my nights sleep by the time the cock quite literally crowed and the morning came.
The ritual was to begin around 09.00 so we got up around 08.00 to get a cup of tea and try to relax before the day’s activities. A few people pottered about and others had gathered outside the dining room, sipping on cups of tea and some indulging in a little fruit. The conversation flowed easily again, discussing the events from the night before and the hopes and expectations for the coming ceremony. I was feeling nervous again, naturally, hoping that I could get over the lingering negativity from the night before and break through to some deeper insights. At least there wasn’t much time to dwell on things that morning and it was quickly time to get things started again.
The usual sequential sharing was the first order of the day, everybody telling a little of their experience of the night before and their hopes and expectations for the day. Some hadn’t felt anything at all from the ayahuasca, including one of the Swedish girls, who hadn’t ever drank the brew before. Another quite experienced guy had felt the full-blown effects immediately and was retching and vomiting within minutes of ingesting it. Funny how the experience is so variable from person to person! I told a little of my anxious time the night before, saying that it was a major reason for my being there and that I hoped to learn a little bit about it during the day’s ceremony.
We gathered then in a circle and, holding hands and breathing deeply, we uttered the usual prayer of Life, Heath, Happiness, Open Path to open the second day ceremony. Time to queue for our communion then, we gathered again in two lines and began the Ayahuasca chant. I realised I was a little more relaxed than the night before, not as anxious about drinking the yagé this time. I was more determined not to spill this time! I focussed my attention on the chant and tried to hold myself in a positive, relaxed state, repeating to myself that I had purpose and intent and that this would be good for me. There was much I needed to learn about myself and this was just the opportunity I needed. I got my glass of thick, dark ayahuasca (without spilling) and went to the altar to drink it down. It was bitter, each sip seemingly stronger than the last. Not by any means difficult to get down, however. My glass now empty, I waited for the others to get their serving to see what Rini and Norberto had in store for us that day.
We began with another bout of circling the room, making eye contact with each other and settling into the ritual. Soon we were told to choose a partner, someone we felt comfortable with. We were to hold eye contact over a prolonged period with our chosen partner, trying to relax and get past the discomfort that this may cause, as it isn’t the social norm nowadays to hold someone’s gaze so long. This practice was familiar from the last workshop I had taken part in. My first partner was a Swedish guy, David. A kind face and Jesus-like appearance made it easy to feel at ease and just see where it took us. When focussing on the eyes, the rest of the face becomes fluid and changeable, a smile can shift the features completely. We were told to close our eyes for a while and then when opening them again to notice if anything was different. I couldn’t say exactly what was different, but I had begun to feel the effects of the ayahuasca while standing with my eyes closed. After a good hug to thank each other for sharing “a moment”, we were to resume circling and then once again find another partner. This time I was paired with Wim, a Dutch guy I hadn’t spoken to yet. Another warm, kind face to be examined for the next few minutes. It’s amazing how much warmth the eyes can betray, a feeling of caring and connection, despite it being a complete stranger.
Finally, we were to find one last partner, mine was to be a Dutch lady who again I hadn’t talked to yet. This time there was a twist. After another bout of staring, Norberto started to play a song on a CD player. Ironically enough it was Frankie Valli and The 4 Seasons with their song “Can’t Take My Eyes off You“. That gave everyone a good laugh and lightened the mood substantially! We danced along to the song, some people putting a lot of energy into it. Unfortunately, even ayahuasca hasn’t dissipated my self-consciousness when it comes to dancing, especially with unacquainted, middle-aged ladies. We did our best however to not make it too awkward and danced along anyway.
So the formalities of the “warm-up” were over and it was time to hit the mattresses again and start down our own individual paths, wherever they may lead. This part is often the nerve-wracking part for me, as the toil between my emotional self and my logical, thinking self (my ego?) reaches epic proportions. This time, though, was to be different as I was whisked off my feet by the ayahuasca before I could even begin to contemplate the oncoming experience. I was very grateful for this, for once avoiding the tiresome chatterbox’s attention. I was flung into a world of raw emotion, of such immense power I rarely experience. Things get quite personal from here, as well as quite difficult to explain accurately. Take my word for it when I say there are certain things that need to be experienced to be believed or understood. The ayahuasca experience is something of such raw power, such vivid sensations that it really cannot be expressed in words. Words though, are all I have.
The room shifted, as if the ceiling became a whirlpool with the edges of the dome moving slower and the center spinning rapidly. I was emotionally dragged with the current. By this I mean I was still physically sitting on my mattress, but my emotional state was shifted to a completely different plane, and totally out of my control. I felt surrounded by a presence, and the presence was Love. It totally embodied what my now ex-girlfriend had for me, so in a way it felt like she was there, circling above me in the whirlpool and surrounding me completely. The connection I felt to her at that moment so was so incredibly strong, it answered one of my burning questions immediately – did I really love her? YES. I cried and I cried. I cried tears of regret, sorrow, guilt and shame. Everything I had done in the face of this person’s seemingly undiminishing love, all the hurt that I had caused, I really and truly felt for the first time in all its force. I finally felt what she had felt: the despair, hopelessness and fear of never being with her again. All these emotions I had tried to push away when I was feeling my worst a few months before, feeling that I was unable to cope. Instead I tried to forget, tried to pick holes in what we had to justify what I had done. It took something as powerful as ayahuasca to make the sheer emotional weight finally descend, forcing me to bend and break under the strain.
The physical effects during this time were also quite distinct. I could feel a build-up of emotional tension, the quantity of tears rising in tandem with the tension. It was a very real physical sensation, mostly centered around my chest and my stomach. I was writhing on my mattress as my body wrung the tension into tighter and tighter knots. Twisting and turning. Crying and crying. Then the energy in the room would shift again and there would be a huge release of tension. All the negative energy flowed right out of me, the physical tensions evaporating with it. The relief was immense. It felt like literally working something out of my system. Feeling everything in its raw power and then releasing it. This continued in cycles, sometimes helped along by the musicians. Building up and up and up and just like with a thunderstorm: a flash of lightning, a clap of thunder and a torrential downpour (of tears?) clearing the tension in the atmosphere leaving a freshness in the air, so much more bearable than the preceding heaviness and humidity.
After the huge releases of energy, I would sit up, wipe my face and blow my nose (which incidentally was the only way I did any purging all weekend, copious quantities of snot!). I would sit there like I had just come out the toughest experience of my life, shaking my head and sometimes chuckling to myself at the incredible force that was working me over. It was just incredible, and so fantastic to be aware of the work happening. Sometimes I would be on the verge of giggles, the release of negative emotion was so energizing. It wouldn’t be long though until the sadness and grief started to creep back in. At times I would be feeling literally equal amounts of happiness and sadness simultaneously. I would sit whilst chuckling to myself and feeling tears of sorrow welling up again within me. And so I would descend into another bout of grieving, feeling… facing up to the feelings I really needed to process.
While all this was going on, I have no real recollection of anything I saw. I was totally oblivious to any visual inputs and was totally in the realm of emotion. So as there were no visuals to process, my analytical mind was silent and unnecessary. This in itself was liberating, I was no longer trying to figure the whole experience out with analytical questions like “what is it?”, “what do I see?”, “what relevance does this have?” and instead was physically and emotionally working through the issues I had. During one bout of grief the question did pop into my head of “What is it that you really want?”. It felt like I was asked this question, rather than posing the question myself. I muttered the answer to myself – I just don’t want to feel so anxious anymore, I don’t want to carry this burden of guilt around with me every day, I just want to be happy. So there I had it, I had answered my own question from my preparations as to what I really wanted.
After this very intense introspection I began to broaden my horizons and look more outward. I looked around the room, which until now I had been almost completely oblivious to for God knows how long. I felt such incredible love for everybody in that room, words just cannot begin to describe it. Each and every one of them was in the midst of working through their own issues, and I admired our bravery for choosing such a difficult and beautiful way of facing ourselves on the brink. I felt a burning desire for everybody to be happy, in whatever they do. I hoped and prayed that my ex could be happy, that she could move on, find someone new and be treated the way she deserved. I hoped she could find the love in her own heart again, of which she had an over-abundance before, and that she would be able to share this love with a suitably deserving person. I realised that all of us humans are living each day for the first time, trying to find what it is that makes us happy – and most of us are pretty rubbish at it! We’re stumbling our way through life, leaving a trail of hurt and chaos behind us. No matter how evil another person may appear to us, they are only trying their best to be happy. I wished that everyone could taste the ayahuasca experience so that they could feel the over-powering love that is within us all and which deep down we want to share with everyone. Synchronicity alert! Just as I write these words, the lyrics boom from my speakers “I feel love, I feel love, I feel love, I feel love, …” from a track I’ve never heard before. The universe has a great sense of humour sometimes!
A brief summary of some other insights are also in order. I was told to be nice, to appreciate every human’s right to be present and their need for validation. Again, everyone wants to be happy. People who I find difficult sometimes, for example at work, I was to go easier on, acknowledge their right to be as well as giving them credit where it was due. Being hard on them was actually also being hard on me and was costing me a lot of energy. It’s fine to be demanding and to have high standards, whilst accepting that not everyone can or will live up to these expectations, including sometimes myself. I had to admit to myself that I would have a much bigger appreciation for my friends in Sweden if I made more of an effort to see them, instead of pining after my (great!) friends in Ireland who I all too rarely see. Another maybe obvious but at the same time necessary insight was that I really have to concentrate on being happy right now, in the present moment. Do whatever it is that will make you happy right now and ask yourself the question, what is it that you need to feel happy right now? It can often be a surprisingly simple thing that can make you happy in the present moment. The random bleating of a sheep for example, which now began to penetrate the bubble of the ayahuasca space. Sheep can sometimes be genuinely hilarious – sounding grumpy, terrified or content!
This mindful insight was nothing new to me of course, but a timely reminder that much of my anxiety and grief was created by over-analysing, over-thinking the future as well as the past, whilst totally neglecting the only thing we definitely have – the present. Sometimes when I felt things were getting too much, the feelings of fear or pain becoming too powerful, I could just focus on the actual bodily sensations, breathe, and let them pass. More mindfulness training put to good use. All this stuff makes good sense, but is more difficult to implement practically than one might expect. These were just reminders that practice is the key and that these are necessary to my current well-being.
All of this took place in a timeless dimension for me, I had no concept or need for time, only a vague recollection that this experience wouldn’t last forever. I’m not sure how much time had actually passed but it was possibly in the region of five hours. I gradually started to come back to myself, my logical thinking clicked back into some kind of low gear. I noticed as soon as my analytical thinking resurfaced, so too did my most common anxiety symptom – tightness in the chest. It is possible that my thinking and over-analysing causes my anxiety or I guess also possible that my emotional self didn’t register the discomfort as there were so many other inputs and outputs to take account of.
Either way, this was a clear sign that the really deep ayahuasca trip was coming to an end… at least until Norberto announced that there would be another opportunity to drink ayahuasca now. Jesus, I thought, I’m exhausted from what seemed like many lifetimes of experience and now there was a chance for another glass? I admired the fact that others were so willing to dive deeper, fearless and brave. Well, at least brave. I think everybody has a certain amount of fear even if they are experienced. Anyway I felt I wasn’t in the brave category right at that moment. I felt like I had gotten through a lot of work and that I would have to be content with that. If I drank another glass I was afraid I could undo some of the benefits of the process I had just been through. I could reignite the fires of fear and anxiety whilst delving deeper into the unknown within myself. This would have to wait until a time I had the energy to do the exploring and deal with whatever popped up.
I lay for some time, quite content to listen to the amazing soundscapes the musicians were creating. My eyes still fluttered, the ceiling and the flags still quivered and undulated with an extra-dimensional glow. I was still very much under the influence of the ayahuasca, however now I was very happy to be there in that space and welcomed its embrace. At one point I heard some commotion on the other side of the room as one of the Swedish guys, Johan, was calling out to someone across the room. He was wide-eyed and bright-faced. It was a little unusual to hear people speaking above more than a whisper, but as usual in this state I just assumed they knew what was going on and I was oblivious. Later Johan would tell me he was just returning to himself from a wild ride where he lost all touch with reality. He was so wide-eyed and happy because he was starting to realize that other people around him were real and did exist! I could empathise with the relief that it can be to return to reality after such a long-haul trip away from it!
A torrential downpour had begun creating a different atmosphere in our ayahuasca space. The raindrops pummeled the roof and skylights and the sound was also pouring in through the open windows.The moisture in the air was refreshing. I mustered the energy to get up to have a peep out the large open window behind my head. I rested my chin on my arms and gazed transfixed at the tumbling rain and dark, angry skies. More raw, natural power on show and I was a keen observer. To my left and standing outside was another of the Swedish crew, Hillevi. She glanced my way and her face was beaming with delight. I never saw a person so happy in the rain! She high-fived me through the open window and we exchanged broad, knowing smiles. Only yesterday I had thought it was going to be impossible for me to enjoy the ayahuasca experience and now here I was after going through the best and the worst of it and left with a thoroughly satisfied feeling. I had finally broken through to a level where I could appreciate the beauty of the experience without finding it too strange or discomforting, whilst at the same time being able to put its power to some good use in dealing with my own issues.
The rain cleared and I decided to go out to get some fresh air and watch the retreating thunderstorm in the background. I had begun to disconnect from the happenings in the room now, as those who remained had probably drunk more ayahuasca and were delving deeper into the mysteries of themselves. My work was done and I wouldn’t have been contributing anything to the group with my presence. I walked out onto the damp grass and just soaked up the sensations – the feel of the wet grass on my feet, the sparkling of the raindrops in the sunlight, the fresh and pungent aromas in the air from the plants and animals about. How alive everything seemed! And how oblivious the sheep were to what we were up to in that little room! I was looking at how playful the lambs were when I heard footsteps behind me. Vatsal, an Indian guy had also emerged from the room to get some fresh air. He had just drunk his fourth glass though, so was on a slightly different plane than I was! We sat on the grass and chatted for quite a while, about lots of different topics. I was amazed how lucid he was, able to track conversations easily and engage fully. How different this intoxication is to, say drinking a bottle of whiskey! Instead of sinking into unconsciousness, you soar to a kind of super-consciousness with perception sharpened and enhanced.
It took a couple of hours or so for the others in the group to finish their journey and for the ceremony to finally brought to a close. It still amazed me that others went so far, if my one glass caused what seemed like an eternity of experience, I couldn’t begin to imagine what three or four might do! All in all the ceremony lasted about nine hours I think.
So the hard work was done, it was back to the dining room to be treated to another feast. As usual I was famished and wolfed down as much as I could. I was much brighter humour after this ceremony and the conversation flowed easily with many of the other participants. Tired too though, it wasn’t long before I hit the hay.
Tomorrow I would do it all over again!