Diving Deeper into the Ayahuasca Experience

Prologue

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!

Day 1

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.

Day 2

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.

Day 3

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!

Day 4

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!

Ayahuasca – A Soundscape

And now for something completely different!

I’ve been trying to enroll in one of the ayahuasca workshops with Ceu de Amsterdam for some time now, but unfortunately they’ve been selling our in record time, so I haven’t had any luck yet. While a workshop has been on my mind, I have been thinking of how I can recreate a glimpse of the experience as I remember it. Music and sound are a huge part of the experience, with a host of talented musicians playing throughout. Other times, I feel, music is flowing from some external or internal source, that is music is “there”, in “that” place, part of my subjective experience. Some might call it music of the angels!

This mix is my attempt to describe how music and sound flows through me, enhancing the emotional and visual landscapes I travel through. The sounds are very varied and eclectic, not always pleasant. There are times I feel time gets stuck in a loop, or time loses its meaning completely. I use a lot of loops and samples to emphasise that point. Some points are intense, pushing me forward to the next level of experience, whether I like it or not. There are dark, unsettling moments, where the weirdness can feel overwhelming. These moments pass, often transitioning into beautiful, warm, embracing sounds and voices emerging from the mist and reassuring me that yes, everything is ok. Artists like Apparat and Bibio for me are the representation of the musicians and singers at the workshops, who often seem to break into song at exactly the moment I need it. Just when i thought I was lost forever in the dark, they bring the light!

Other parts, in particular the Meredith Monk song, show how the soundscape can be utterly weird, playful, funny, mad. I always laugh at this song, it is a perfect representation of the times when I look around the room and see the apparent madness of the events unfolding around me, sometimes you really just have to laugh!

I have always got a sense of vibration underlying this “awakened” state, which is perfectly demonstrated by a string instrument like the Indian sitar. At the quiet times, I feel that sound is everywhere, the foundation of existence. The people around me are like Gods, lounging in this eternal place. Funnily enough, I don’t think there has been a sitar at the workshops I have attended, so to me it is one of the internal/external sources that produces it. The Cluster & Eno track is the representation of this sensation for me.

Finally the quiet times are also perfectly portrayed in the Ernst Reijseger songs from the fantastic Werner Herzog documentary Cave of Forgotten Dreams. The combination of wind and string instruments and wonderfully soft voices really sums up for me how music can make a direct deep spiritual connection. The atmosphere in this album is second to none for creating the soundscape to a calm, spiritually charged space.

Hope you enjoy!

A Sequel Sacred Ceremony – Further Journeys with Ayahuasca – Part III

I awoke on the Sunday morning relatively refreshed. We had made sure to kill any loitering mosquitos before hitting the hay and so my sleep was a little more comfortable. There was as usual an array of weird dreams, none of which I recalled or could make sense of. I felt relatively relaxed about the approaching ceremony. It felt good to have broken through to a level where I could appreciate the beauty of the ayahuasca experience without being overwhelmed or terrified. Of course there were some residual anxieties that the worst was yet to come, the pessimist in the mist is always lurking. Overall though I felt like I still had some work to do, and was looking forward to getting it done.

Cups of tea were drunk as I chatted with some of the others. One was planning to go as far as possible that day, calling it “the big one”. He also advised me to push it as far as possible, to go all in. Luckily I wasn’t easily persuaded, I had my own plan and knew not to be affected by how other people were thinking or doing. The ayahuasca experience is a thoroughly individual process and I knew to only take advice from the likes of the shaman or the helpers like Rini. They were the ones who had the best experience and knew how to advise people on their journeys.

We began to gather in the by now familiar ceremony room. I sensed that the atmosphere was a lot more relaxed than the day before, without the same level of tension. The Sunday was the day for consolidating work done on the previous days, taking stock of the lessons learned and trying to piece it all together into a plausible framework that could be used going back to real life after the weekend. Having said that, we were still drinking ayahuasca, so you never really know whats in store. There could be a lot more work to be done, the unexpected is never far around the corner! After the formalities of sharing and our usual prayers and chanting, we drank our little glasses of yagé and were ready to embark on another wonderful journey. Our warm up this time would be a purely personal one: no staring, no group work, no dance partners. We were to do the Shaking Meditation which was new to me. Basically it consisted of three stages for us:

  • Stage 1: Shake! Rini and Norberto had chosen some music which was quite ambient, basic and repetitive. We were quite simply to shake on the spot, shaking or arms legs and body until it fell into a kind of rhythm, where the body was shaking itself and I wasn’t doing the shaking. I found the music to be really cool, trance inducing and was quite easy to shake to and try to disconnect from everything else. Of course we all probably looked ridiculous, but with eyes closed we were all in our own little worlds. This stage was to last 15 minutes which passed quite quickly.
  • Stage 2: Dance! Now we were to let our bodies dance for the next 15 minutes, moving to the music as it wishes, without trying to force anything or without think of pulling any good moves! This is a little more tricky for me, the self-consciousness is always a factor with my dancing, so I find it hard to just let it flow. At least the music was right up my street and so I found it easy enough to wriggle and writhe and just try to let go of things and let the rhythm flow through me.
  • Stage 3: Be still! Now we were to hit the mattresses and have some quiet time for another quarter of an hour. By now sinking into a meditative awareness.

I was already starting to feel the effects by the time I sat down on my mattress. This time I was relatively calm about the oncoming journey, there wasn’t the same level of anxiety or resistance as the previous days. I think the meditation exercise was a very effective way of distracting me from any worries or negative thoughts. I remember phasing in and out of awareness, drifting off into periods of thoughtlessness, observing without really processing or analysing. Then coming back to awareness, remembering where I was at and what I was doing. This was probably a sign of a growing experience with the ayahuasca experience – the ability to check my state of awareness, to pull myself back to be present every so often instead of wandering mindlessly.

The atmosphere in the room was very calm and quiet. The reflective silence was only occasionally interrupted by the sound of retching and vomiting, but I hardly even noticed these disturbances. Overall people were still. I felt waves of emotion begin to pass over me again, waves of sadness and regret. Lina was very much the focus of my attention and again it wasn’t such answering of questions or confirmation of thoughts, it was just raw emotion being released in all its force. It felt very much like saying goodbye, a grieving process. Not wanting to let a loved one go, while realising that there was no way back. I felt immense sadness at the hurt I had caused and the damage caused seemed admittedly irreparable.

Occasionally the musicians would ease their way into a song now and again. If I wasn’t crying before the songs began then I was most certainly crying once they got going! There was a softness and delicateness to the notes of the instrument and their voices, an indescribable beauty that tore at the heart-strings and allowed all the pain to come through without the slightest resistance. I lay on my back with tears streaming down my face, so much so that my face and ears were soaked as if I had just stepped out of the shower. It was uncontrollable crying, without a sound. I mourned everything that I had lost, a future I would never have. It felt like she was walking away with her back turned and I was stretching out my hand in vain to touch her one last time. It was all a bit dramatic, like a scene from Gladiator when he sees his dead wife and child walking off into the corn fields and towards the eternal light.

My visions were again quite limited during this session. The overwhelming experience was one of raw emotion accompanied by incredibly beautiful soundscapes weaves by the infinitely talented musicians. The times when I wasn’t crying about my own loss, I was crying about the beauty of the place I found myself in, the music that caressed me and the other beautiful people who surrounded me. I felt an incredible yearning that everybody could be happy. Amazingly I realized that I didn’t want this experience to end, that I didn’t want to leave this sacred space. This was the first time I had felt so safe, secure and happy in the middle of the ayahuasca experience, despite all the sadness and grief I was working through. I realised the ultimate beauty of the experience, the indescribable feelings of life and love pouring in and out of my being. I curled into the foetal position and felt the embrace of my mother. A child come home to the safety and security of its mother’s arms. I felt both permission to cry as well as the forgiveness of the all-encompassing universe, a wordless embrace.

The offer of more ayahuasca came long a couple of times during all this. Again like the day before I didn’t feel like I had the energy to try go any deeper with my issues. I felt like the mourning and grieving was all I could manage, whilst still being able to appreciate the beauty of the journey. I felt like an extra glass could send me too far to a place I wasn’t ready to go, possibly undoing all the work I had managed to do thus far. I felt I wouldn’t be afraid of coming back to the ayahuasca sometime in the near future to take the next step towards resolving my deeper issues. I stayed for a long time in the ceremony room listening to the music and drifting in my thoughts, the powerful part if the experience over, but the fluttering, quivering patterns still clearly visible. I felt relaxed and calm.

However there was a slight lingering sense of regret that I hadn’t pushed myself further, that I should’ve been more brave and dived for the answers to the deeper questions. I hadn’t really got any definitive answers. I still didn’t know what had gone wrong, I had mostly just mourned that it had gone wrong. I reassured myself though that I couldn’t expect too much, that I should be proud of my progress that weekend and be glad with what I could take away with me. I finally left the room to go outside and sit on the grass and soak in the suns rays again. There was still a fairly big bunch of people fully engaged in the yagé ritual, but I left them behind as I wasn’t much of a contributor! Outside on the lawn I chatted with the others about the accomplishments of the weekend, and exchanged tips about music, book, movies and documentaries, another real benefit of meeting so many interesting people – a chance to broaden the horizons!

Eventually it was time for final sharing, the music having reached a crescendo and a peak of positive emotion. There were many smiling faces, a sense of relief at having survived another ceremony and privilege of having experienced it. We all sat in a big circle outside on the grass, passing the talking stick around the circle which allowed only the speaker the privilege of talking. Each speaker said their part finished off by uttering “Aho“, which is a native American way of saying “Amen”. There was a lot of emotion about, the overwhelming majority having had positive journeys or for those who had reached the dark depths of hell, positive benefits to take forward into the “real life”.

Its incredible the bonds you can make with people you have known for such a short time. Its hard saying good-bye! Others I only talked to for the first time on the Sunday afternoon and yet there is that common bond between us, a sense of achieving something together. It was so worth all the anxiety in the build-up, a huge release of emotion and an opportunity to feel the raw emotion of my circumstances without holding back, without resisting and protecting myself from the pain. A sense of relief to have worked through even a fraction of that pain, to have begun the healing process and an opening of the path to the future. I would have a lot of work to do myself, the hard part is often changing behaviour in everyday life without the aid of such powerful medicine. A lot will need to be figured out over the course of the next few months, but I am convinced that Mother Ayahuasca has given me the energy required to start alongthe road to recovery. My door is hopefully open to the next opportunity that may cross my path and I am certain I will be back in the future for another taste of the sacred brew.

A Sequel Sacred Ceremony – Further Journeys with Ayahuasca – Part II

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!

Click here for the third and final part!

A Sequel Sacred Ceremony – Further Journeys with Ayahuasca – Part I

The eagle has landed. I’m back in my familiar surroundings and already feel the weekend’s activities melting back into normal, everyday life. I need to get everything down again as soon as possible, before my logical mind takes control and begins to question what really did and didn’t happen. The boundaries between dream, imagination and reality can be very thin after an ayahuasca workshop like that I have just returned from. It was my second workshop, again with the Céu de Amsterdam and this time in the heart of the Netherlands. This series of blog posts will consist of three parts, with one for each day of the workshop.

Build-up

I had hoped to write more blog posts in the lead-up to the weekend, but things seemed to get really hectic in the run-up and I didn’t feel like I really made the time to get fully prepared beforehand. My journey was to begin early on the Friday morning, flying to Amsterdam where I would meet with my fellow psychonaut Paul, before heading south towards the retreat venue. My excitement had grown on the Thursday evening, I felt relaxed and relatively optimistic about the coming activities. Waking at 04.00 on the Friday morning however was a different story – I felt wrecked and worried, a real sense of foreboding. On the flight, I read through my old blog posts, enjoying some parts whilst others sent a shiver down my spine. I was going back, back to a place I really didn’t want to be the last time I was there! The post describing the Sunday ritual reminded me of my reluctance to return to the weird “space”, where I felt confused and disorientated the day before. I read of my huge sense of relief to have returned to my body and to a reality I understood. I reminded myself of my reasons for going back, my burning issues I had to face head-on in order to move on. Was I really capable of another such voyage though? Not too long ago I was suffering from fairly extreme anxiety and panic attacks, so I questioned whether I could really handle the weight of another ayahuasca experience.

I met Paul in Amsterdam Airport Schiphol and we laughed and joked at our nervosity and questioned our sanity for once again bringing ourselves to the brink. We caught up on our recent life events, the main catalysts for us being here. Both certainly had our demons to deal with, both felt the weight of the impending workshop heavily on our shoulders. As we journeyed to our destination our chatter was generally light-hearted in character. We had some time to kill in Utrecht, where the conversation also flowed freely. There was a sense, however, that our nervous jokes were an attempt to mask the growing unease that was tightening its grip on us both.

Time marched on and kill time we did. One stretch spent sitting at a bus-stop just a few hundred metres from the venue. Finally the time came for registration, so we could head over to the venue and get things started. Quite a few people were already there, rendering our idea to whittle away the time at the local bus-stop as just a little ridiculous! Rini greeted us in his typically warm manner, instructing us to find a bed for the weekend. This time, we realised to our relief, we would have the luxury of actual dorm rooms to sleep in, rather than spending the entire weekend on the very same mattress in the same room!

We began to meet our fellow participants slowly but surely. It felt at first as if everyone already knew each other and were experts in the experience, but this assumption was quickly shown to be false. There were some first-timers, some experienced heads and some in-betweeners. Some of the nationalities we were introduced to were German, Italian, South African and Dutch. I also heard to my astonishment that there were Swedes! Four of them to be precise! Not in my wildest dreams did I expect to meet Swedish people at such an event. There are few people I have met here in Sweden with whom I would even broach the subject of psychedelics, few I would admit to having taken part in such an event, but here were four people I would’ve dearly liked to have met earlier!

After the formalities of registration were over we were free to prepare for the night’s ritual. This time there would be no introductory interview with our resident shaman, Norberto – I am no longer a beginner, although most definitely still a rookie! A little over two hours wait remained before the real business of the weekend was to begin.

Friday Night Ritual

All day I had been reassuring myself that the Friday night ritual would be like last time: gentle, warm and reassuring. Regardless, the tightness in my chest and the dull pain in my sinuses were betraying how I really felt. I was very anxious, very unsure of how the weekend was going to go. I had been building up the workshop as something difficult that would have to be endured, where the spirit of Mama Ayahuasca would berate and scold me for all the wrong I had done, unsympathetically showing me all my flaws and my mistakes. These I had imagined would have to be faced in order for me to cleanse myself of my guilt and shame, hopefully allowing me to move on with a clearer conscience afterwards. So to say the least I was expecting a difficult ride. No wonder I was starting to feel the pressure. The lingering negativity from the previous workshop was also palpable now, just adding more fuel to the psychological flames.

I tried to get settled in the venue for the weekend ritual, a relatively ordinary space with a high wooden dome roof, tall windows and minimally decorated with some flags, including the Brazilian flag and a couple of psychedelically patterned ones. An altar to Mama Ayahuasca stood in the centre – a large bowl of water with a hummingbird figure, surrounded by fresh flowers and some power objects. I chuckled to myself when I noted the emergency exit signs were taped over with heavy black plastic bags. There was to be no escape!

I found my mattress, which would be the vessel for some weird and hopefully wonderful voyages to come. Time to get to know the neighbours, I was flanked by two Germans – one young and one old. It’s always great to see such a spread of people – all ages, all backgrounds and all here to test their limits. There is a very strong sense of being in it together, that our fates are interlinked and co-dependent. The tension was building, although many had wide smiles and were chatting happily. I sat quietly trying to keep calm and let the nervous thoughts come and go like the clouds in the sky. My exterior most likely didn’t betray the turmoil of emotion going on just beneath the surface.

A bell chimed. A silence fell. Norberto was the first to speak. He welcomed us all in his humble, unassuming manner. It can be hard to imagine that this guy is the guide, the leader of the pack. His calm is utterly reassuring, however, and you get the sense you are in safe hands. A few practicalities out of the way and it was time for an introductory round of sharing. Four points to make: who are you, where are you from, why are you here and what do you bring to the group. Relatively straight forward except for the last point. What could I bring to the group? My mind raced as my time to speak drew near. The best I could muster was that I was a rookie and so brought some innocence and naievity to the group. Times like that often feel like I am bordering on stirring up a panic attack, as silly as that sounds. Speaking in front of groups just isn’t my forté! Each attempt is a step away from the worry however, as each time I manage without embarrassing myself adds a little to my armour.

After everyone had shared their reasons for being there (some a little more eccentrically than others it must be said) we were ready to emerge from the mattresses to gather in the middle of the room. The atmosphere was electric now. Norberto led some simple exercies to limber up and loosen out our muscles, attempting to dissipate some nervous energy. It felt a little bit like before a triathlon race – wondering what the hell I’m doing here, why I put myself through these things and really looking forward to when its all over. Not exactly brimming with positivity! We gathered in a wide circle, holding hands. Closing our eyes and feeling our presence and the presence of the others. Breathing deeply. Rini came in with two jugs of brown/black ayahuasca, which sent a surge of anxiety down my throat and into my belly. There would be no more waiting, the time was upon us.

Two lines were formed and we broke out into song, chanting along to the catchy tune of Aya, Aya, Ayahuasca (you can listen to a hyper-speed version here). The familiarity was a bit unsettling instead of comforting. I was feeling very nervous now. Slowly, slowly I crept forward in the queue, observing those who sipped and slurped their shot glasses full to the brim with ayahuasca. Many seemed very pleased to be downing the thick liquid, others approached it prayerfully, kneeling by the altar and touching the glass to their forehead before taking a sip. I reached the front of the queue and was faced by the wide eyes of the shaman who looked deep within my soul as if measuring the size of the glass by my readiness for the journey. I was so careful to appear focussed that I tried to hold his gaze as I reached for the glass. Clumsily I tapped the glass with my fingers, failing to grip it at the first attempt. A little ayahuasca toppled out over the side and splattered cruelly on the floor. What a start! I looked at Norberto apologetically as he motioned for Rini to clean up the little spillage. Norberto smiled and said its ok and I retreated in my embarrassment to the back of the room. My mind flung plenty of accusations at me as I timidly drank up my glass. Idiot. Rookie. Doofus. That particular insult was probably the only one that brought a smile to my face, realising how ridiculous a word it was. I would have to try and let this one go but I knew from experience I wasn’t often so easy on myself.

While we were waiting for the ayahuasca to begin working its magic we were to carry out some simple exercises. We were to walk around the room, circling erratically and making eye contact with the other group members. We were to really notice how we felt when we met the other’s gaze. Feeling intimidated, attracted, open or at ease. Whatever it may be, just take notice. This was an exercise to forge a kind of group rapport, a way of getting to know the people we would be sharing the experience with without having to utter a word. Darkness had almost fallen and the few candles flickering in the room had began to throw some interesting shadows. People’s faces morphed and melted as we passed, adding an eerie edge to the looks. There were some seriously intense eyes to be looked into, others were more warm and reassuring. I noticed that nobody looked afraid, although the chances are we all had our masks on, including myself.

After the random wandering it was time for another activity. This time we were to form groups of three and each person in the group would be able to ask from the other two whatever they wanted for a ten minute period, so for example one could ask for a ten minute massage from the other two. Göran in our group did just that and got a ten minute back massage, which myself and Olivier did our best to make at least somewhat enjoyable. Its most likely the first time I’ve ever given a ten minute massage, and it had to be for a man! My fingers were fairly aching by the end of it and my mind questioned all the while my ability to give such a massage without causing permanent injury. I noticed also how warm I was -I was sweating profusely in the humid air. My turn next, and to avoid suffering an injury myself as I once did getting a massage in Colombia, I avoided asking for a massage. I tried to be a little bit original and asked for the most positive story of their ayahuasca experiences, which I hoped would ease my anxiousness and give a little more of a positive edge to the evening. It didn’t turn out to be the most inspired choice though, as Olivier had never taken ayahuasca before and Göran said that, although clichéed, all his ayahuasca experiences were positive! Olivier was next and after wasting around five minutes trying to decide what he wanted, he ended up opting for a massage and I was there again, pretending I knew what I was doing and whittling away the time as best I could. I hardly achieved the purpose of the exercise which was to give as you take, and enjoy the giving as much as the taking.

So, my massage course over and apparently no serious injuries or complaints, it was time to hit the mattresses for some quiet reflection. This was the hard part. All the activities were a welcome distraction from the onset of the ayahuasca. Besides the occasional funny tasting burp it was sometimes easy to forget that I had drank at all. Sitting down though I was left to listen to the eternal chatterbox, opening the door for fleeting feelings of anxiousness or even panic. The fact is I was very afraid of having no control. Once you have drank the ayahuasca there is essentially no return. You have made your committment and now you have to face up to whatever it has to throw at you. That can be very disconcerting, especially as I have had problems with anxiety and was expecting to have some very dark demons to face. So began the battle with the mind, attempting to relax, let go of the uneasiness and relax into the experience. I kept reminding myself of the first time I drank and the positive experience that it was. Regardless I found it very hard to relax.

An unwelcome distraction also reared its head. As I was lying with my eyes closed, focussing on the shifting bodily sensations, I felt a sting on my forehead. I reached up to wipe some sweat off my brow and heard a mosquito make its escape in their typically clumsy way. Thats all I needed, a mosquito bite on my face! The problem now was I couldn’t forget about the unwelcome intruder. In all honesty it should’ve added a bit of an authentic Amazonian feel to the ritual, but there I was paranoid about getting more bites on my face!

I started to get some quite powerful visuals with my eyes closed – a swirling, churning, rotating of patterns. The effects were setting in. I’d open my eyes and see that the room had a relatively normal appearance still, besides the candles having a kind of extra dimension to their glow. Closing my eyes returned me to the other-worldly textured visions. I tried to take stock of where I was and started asking myself what I wanted from the evenings ritual. Was I supposed to start digging for answers already? Should I ask the questions that I had planned out? I decided not to ask, as I thought the real work was to be done tomorrow. Tonight, I thought, I should just try to accept the experience and allow it to take me where it wanted. I couldn’t let go of the feeling that I was doing it wrong though, that I shouldn’t be enjoying the visuals on show as I was here for different reasons. I felt a real knot tying in my stomach, twisting all the negative tension into a ball. The tightness in my chest and sinuses was also still very apparent. Whatever I was doing, I was failing. I was just making things worse.

My logical mind was still very much in control, despite the obvious effects of the ayahuasca. There was no chance of letting go of my analytical processes, which were continuously assessing whether I felt ok about what was happening to me. Were these visuals nice? Was I on the verge of losing control? How much time had passed and how long was there left? This was going to be a long weekend if this was how I was going to welcome each day’s ritual and I surely wouldn’t get much benefit from this kind of an experience. I desperately tried to use my limited experience of mindfulness to just observe the thinking mind while allowing the connection to the ayahuasca to be formed. Just to accept the spirit of the drink would be enough for tonight, enough of a preparation for tomorrow.

I was glad in a way that I had such strong visions as there was no doubt I was feeling the effects of the brew. So I couldn’t deny that Mama Ayahuasca had come and to be fair I hadn’t seen anything unsettling. I felt like this was the real postive to focus on from the evenings ritual and I would try to take that with me into tomorrow. Gradually I felt the grip of the ayahuasca loosen on my body and the visuals began to fade to more bland patches of colour. I felt tired from the battle between mind and body, not to mention hungry! It was now around ten hours since I last ate. Norberto called an end to the evening’s ceremony and we gathered once again in a circle holding hands. We chanted an indigineous prayer which, Norberto explained, is what every child of the Earth has a right to have:

Life, Health, Happiness, Open Path.
Health in the body, Peace in the spirit, Love in the heart.
It is this that we wish for ourselves, for our loved ones and for all our brothers and sisters.
So be it

The chant rang a little hollow for me as I felt I really didn’t have health in the body, peace in the spirit or love in the heart. I approached Paul for a quick recap on the night’s events and he had a similarly difficult experience letting go of the negative thought processes. It was a bit of a relief to hear that he had the same emotions in a way, it feels at least like I wasn’t the only one who “did it wrong”. We concluded that it was the long build-up that day and the growing anxiousness and nervosity that was just too much to overcome. We resolved to get a good nights sleep and try to be ready for the big one tomorrow. First though there was the small matter of a feast to be had in the dining room! A great spread of vegetarian food – soups, salads, breads and fresh juice and herbal teas. It felt so clean and fresh going down, my body really seemed to appreciate the goodness that I was shovelling in. I was a little withdrawn in the conversations at the dinner table, however. I half-listened to others’ tales of the night’s events, again feeling like I had done something wrong if anyone had a positive story to tell. I didn’t hang around long, myself and Paul retreated to our dorm room to close out the night and hope for a good night sleep. Tomorrow was to be a new day with a fresh challenge.

Click here for Part II!

Preparations so far for the Ayahuasca workshop

The weeks have flown by, as is their custom, since my last post. So I need to check in and take stock of how my “preparations” are going for the next ayahuasca adventure. When I think of preparations I would like to do, a few things spring to mind:

  • define your goals – what exactly is it you want to work out
  • formulate specific questions you would like answers to
  • begin changing your diet – less meat, dairy and junk food, more healthy, fresh options
  • read your old posts to remember what it was like and read more about ayahuasca to be as well prepared as possible

Honestly, so far, I’ve only really managed the fourth point. I’ve read snippets of my earlier posts on the ayahuasca workshop and they are fantastic reminders of the visual and emotional experiences I had. Reading and watching videos about other people’s experiences are also helpful, so a couple of Facebook groups I am a member of help in terms of finding interesting content. One thing remains pretty certain though, it will be nothing like what I expect it to be! No amount of research can really prepare you for the actual experience, and it will be different every time. I remember expecting a wild, jungle-like environment, surrounded by writhing snakes and thick, lush vegetation. Instead I experienced an almost sterile, technological environment with clear definitions and boundaries. It could be totally different this time around. The setting will be different, the group will be different, my circumstances are very different. Who knows what lies in store. That thought is both frightening and exciting! The intention should be to retain a sense of privilege at having the opportunity to experience this state, and remember to serve the experience instead of expecting it to serve me, i.e. focus on the work to be done instead of just going along for the ride.

It’s now around four months since my break-up with the girl I was supposed to marry. The wedding was planned for next weekend. This is the last major milestone I need to pass before I can truly start moving past the whole dreadful experience. I have friends and family visiting for the week, which in one way is a great distraction, while paradoxically being a constant reminder of what should’ve been. I genuinely feel in a much better place now though than I was in February when the anxiety and existentialist fear was at its peak. Whether that means I have done the right thing or not is as yet unclear to me. I wonder if I will ever know for sure what went wrong. I guess deep down in a way I’m hoping Mama Ayahuasca will project the facts in a clear, uncompromising, unambiguous fashion – this is what happened, this is why you felt the way you did, you have/have not done the right thing. I’m more hopeful that expectant. Life is never this simple or black-and-white. However, the truth is within me somewhere so I’m hopeful the yagé can be the help I need to wrench it from the depths and present it in a new light.

I have had a busy couple of months, pushing myself through different situations and scenarios in the hope of surviving and etching out my path to recovery. A half marathon and three triathlons within a month. A weekend camping at a music festival. An all-nighter in Stockholm at a gig knowing I wouldn’t be in bed until 9 o’clock the following morning. I had varying levels of anxiety before each of these events, obviously for different reasons! The question in my mind before each was “Can I actually do this?”. The emphatic answer each time was “Yes”, not in my mind, but as a result of doing it. Each time it took all my effort and energy to get myself through and emerge the other side unscathed. In terms of the athletic effort the after-effects were very positive and long-lasting. In terms of the social events, the fear was powerful of how I would cope with the “comedown” and the hangover. Luckily I didn’t suffer in that sense either and had thoroughly positive experiences. So now I feel on a different playing field altogether, I have new-found confidence in myself, the future is open and brighter, I have a pep in my step! All because of getting out there and doing something, anything.

I have even met other girls, which quells the fear of being alone forever, which has been and still can be quite an over-powering feeling of despair on what I call “the dark nights of the soul”. Those nights where sleep is out of the question and the mind is twisting and turning, flinging accusations and doomsday scenarios at me. The morning comes, the sun rises and the thoughts pass. The progress is very slow, but at least there is progress.

So in terms of my preparations, maybe this blog post has thrown up a few points:

What are my goals?

  • Find out what went wrong before my wedding. Find out where the problem lay and how I can avoid a repeat in the future.
  • To become more aware of my own emotions and to be better able to explore them without shutting them off or ignoring them.
  • To be able to recognise the difference between my intuition and that “little voice in my head”. I want to be able to clearly see what it is that I really want.
  • Become more honest emotionally with other people too, not just myself.

Specific questions

  • Was the problem with my relationship to my girlfriend or was it solely with me?
  • Am I capable of loving someone unconditionally?
  • Can I become less shallow and see the real beauty in people?
  • Will I be happier at home in Ireland?
  • Was I really disguising and ignoring my homesickness all along?

That’s a good start at least. This all flowed without me really having a purpose with this blog post. It just proves that I need to do it a little more often for my own sake! Now there’s a month left to the workshop in Holland. I feel like I am somewhat on my way now, a little less anxious about flinging myself off the deep-end again. I am better prepared already and infinitely less naive than I was the first time round!

Into the Void – Another Ayahuasca Voyage Begins

Recently I got confirmation of my place at a spiritual Ayahuasca workshop in the Netherlands in July. I was delighted to get an email from Céu de Amsterdam earlier with details of a host of workshops they had planned over the summer. It also came at quite a poignant time for me, with my personal life somewhat in disarray. I had no hesitation in signing up for a couple of workshops in the hope of at least securing my place at one of them. And so my luck was in!

Last time I embarked on the Ayahuasca trip into the void I was in quite a different place. Looking back I was quite naive and was really there more out of curiosity than of any urgent need to address some deep problems I was grappling with. Reading through my previous blog posts (see my A Sacred Cermony – An Experience of Ayahuasca series), I recalled how at one point I lost my focus and lost my way, largely forgetting who I was, where I was and why I was there. I am relatively certain that this could be due to my lack of purpose from the beginning. The experience is so intense, that if one doesn’t have a real intention and focus of attention there is a risk of being overwhelmed. Not that I got bored, that is surely impossible! Rather I got too distracted by the colours, patterns and aesthetics and was essentially wandering aimlessly, as an indigenous person might experience Las Vegas for the first time.

This of course was only a portion of my overall experience. My overwhelming emotion afterwards was one of joy and empowerment. I had a real sense of being alive, full of energy and inspired to go out into the world with renewed purpose and positivity. It was a genuinely life-changing experience, the effects of which linger on to this day. Now I feel the need to go back and this time my motives are very different. This time I feel I have genuine intent and a very clear focus. Work is most definitely to be done.

In the last year I have experienced all sorts of emotions and have encountered real suffering for the first time. It all began with an ever-growing and expanding feeling of anxiety that crept slowly from the depths and then quite suddenly exploded to the surface as something far beyond my control. Panic attacks, everyday physical effects such a chest pain and a lump in throat and a paralysing sense of fear and dread before even the simplest (and sometimes most enjoyable) tasks. Life, it seemed, would never be the same again. I walked by restaurants and longed to be “normal” again like those happy people in the windows: chatting, smiling and laughing. I would never be able to experience that again. Its amazing how quickly I felt totally outside, totally alien to a world where I belonged so easily for so long. I was totally oblivious to how it felt for others to be outside these social circles. I always saw it as a choice really – if you wanted to be in it, then you could! Finally I had come to experience how it felt to be an total outsider against my will.

Previously when I heard talk of anxiety and depression, I lacked the understanding to know how deep these emotions go, and how profoundly they affect the individual. I saw it as just being sad, staying home and watching movies, not feeling the ability to be social. A phase that would pass in its own time. After my own experiences I realised that it went so deep that watching movies or reading books was not even on the cards. All normal pasttimes were pointless. Existence itself was pointless. If there is no reason for being, then nothing can bring any enjoyment or sense of pleasure. Also the totally debilitating sense of fear before doing anything made it impossible to enjoy doing anything. I felt anxious before getting in a car with a friend, before playing a game of golf, before meeting a friend for a beer. It was a matter of getting through everything rather than enjoying anything.

Anyway, before I drift too much, my point is that I now have a much deeper understanding of the human condition, having felt the extreme depths of emotion that I was capable of. My purpose in going back to Ayahuasca is to get some invaluable perspective on the root causes of my suffering. Today I am still struggling to be decisive, to know what I really want and act with conviction to realise my goals. I am hoping that ayahuasca can help me release these mental blocks that are holding me captive, the chattering negativity that makes me doubt my own intuition and my decisions big and small. I hope for some clarity as to what I can do to be happier, and in loving myself I know I can be a more loving person. I would like to use all of the negative experiences I have had in order to become a better person.

I am aware there will be no quick-fix or sudden enlightenment. I realise that my journey of self-understanding is always unfolding, always just beginning. Ayahuasca can be the teacher that helps me learn to deal with the negative experiences and emotions and hopefully use them to my personal betterment. I believe I need such a powerful teacher to be able to shock me out of my current negativity and provide me with the energy and inspiration to make the necessary changes in my life.

I’m booked in for the 25th-27th July. This is the firt step in my preparation. This time I will be ready!

The Power of Clichéed Thinking!

Right so, life does indeed go on. Regardless of my will, time marches on and really I’m ok with that. In fact, for a while I was thinking that it was only a matter of time until this anxiety faded into the background and so I was happy enough that time it was a-marching. At the very least time has healed the wounds that my seemingly endless cold symptoms was causing. A does of cortisone nose-spray for a few days seems to have literally given me the breathing space to get my immune system somewhat back on track. Now I’m cautiously looking forward to starting a bit of exercise again. Baby steps.

I have just read a chapter in a self-help book, which was about the power of thinking. All the usual clichés about thinking positively, thinking big, aiming high, and so on and so forth. Clichés maybe, but there is a whole lot of truth behind it. I think the secret is coming to an understanding of what the cliché actually means, rather than the often hollow sounding rhetoric they can sometimes seem. Thinking about positive thinking did bring up some past positive experiences for me that have really given my day and my week a lift.

Not long ago I was aiming extremely high – the challenge was to complete the four events that constitute the Swedish Classic – a 300km cycle, a 3km open water swim, a 30km terrain run and a 90km cross-country ski, all within the space of a year. Thinking back now, I see the enormous positives such a challenge brought me. Six weeks before the ski event I had never stood on a pair of cross-country skis before. The only time I had tried downhill skiing, I tore my groin on the first descent! This was an epic challenge, and one that I obviously had my anxieties and fears about. Is there too much to learn? Is it too far for me? Will I crash, break a ski or worse a leg? The only way of overcoming these fears, doubts and worries was by getting out there and practising. Falling and getting up again. Fear at the top of every hill and elation at the bottom. The experience taught me so much about myself and what I can achieve. So now feels like the right time to reminisce and remind myself of the real high that can be achieved by pushing beyond one’s limits. I honestly believe that will stay with me for the rest of my life, and times like this I can really draw strength from the experience.

Life is about doing things, not sitting at home worried about doing things. Too many things is of course a genuine problem, but one that is relatively easily solved by prioritising. Important things first, everything else can and will wait. Some things just don’t get done, fact. I can’t be afraid to strike those things off the todo list and accept that they won’t be done. One thing to keep in mind is that it is the things you have done that you will remember. So make sure you enjoy the things that you do. I may be paraphrasing Paulo Coelho there, but it rings true for me right now.

My hand is sore, trying to keep up with my thoughts as they flow. I’m feeling really energized as I write, this really is like therapy! I had set out to simply write a list of things that make me happy in my life but I ended up writing this instead. It’s nice how a flow of though can bring up some really beneficial emotions and memories. I have almost been trying not to remember and “be” in the present, trying not to remember in case any negative ones crept in and started a downward spiral. Of course this is wrong, and not what mindfulness teaches me but again its easier said than done and I’m still learning how to do it. Now I know, however, how beneficial a little session like this can be. Another tool in the toolbox!

Analogy of the Day

You get the picture?

I heard a good analogy the other day about the important and not-so-important stuff in life. Like any good analogy, it is a good way of putting things in perspective and giving the mind a good visualisation of a problem and solution. It goes a little something like this.

Important stuff is represented by ping-pong balls; unimportant by sand and life by a glass jug. Throw the ping pong balls into the vase and they fit quite easily. Next, pour the sand in on top and it fills up all the other space – taking up all the other moments in everyday life.

Now start again. This time put the sand in first and then try to put the ping-pong balls in after – they don’t fit! The moral of the story is to prioritise the important stuff first, the other stuff will still find its space. But let the small stuff get in the way and the other stuff just won’t fit!

The Magic of Mushrooms

I have mushrooms on the brain at the moment. All the “normal” Swedish citizens in the office are waxing lyrical of successful mushroom hunts in the forest, with the chanterelle variety of particular interest. The Swedes love this time of year, when the forests are abundant with wild berries and mushrooms, just waiting to be picked. It got me thinking about the possibility of picking a different kind of mushroom, for a very different purpose. Certainly quite a taboo subject here in a country renowned for its strict anti-drug laws. But more on that later.

My interest in psychedelics has been piqued recently after my experiences with ayahuasca, and I have become increasingly interested in something much closer to home than the brew from the Amazonian jungle. Psilocybin and psilocin containing mushrooms, otherwise known as “magic mushrooms” grow across all continents on the planet except for Antarctica. Certain species are abundant in temperate climates and so can be found in the fields and forests surrounding my current hometown of Uppsala.

This is the first year I have begun researching how to go about a mushroom hunt for myself, despite many years in Ireland where similar mushroom species grow. As a beginner it becomes quickly apparent that there is much to be learned. There is also obvious residual fear and paranoia from my childhood days about wild mushrooms, where I was made overly wary of  the dangers of wild mushrooms and not aware enough of the potential benefits (obviously not just as a hallucinogen but also as an abundant food source!).

I will be focussing my efforts on finding the Psilocybe semilanceata mushroom, commonly known as the liberty cap. These can apparently be found in open grassland where cows, horses or deer are to be found grazing. They contain the powerful psychoactive compound psilocybin. First I have to concentrate on how to properly identify the mushroom, picking out its various characteristics as well as how best to distinguish them from other potentially harmful varieties. There are plenty of other sites with excellent information on how to identify the mushroom, so I will just list a few I found useful below.

While reading up on the dos and don’ts of mushroom picking I inevitably came across a few statements on the legality of psilocybin and psilocin containing mushrooms. Sweden, like the US, UK and Ireland, have declared this group of fungi to be illegal. Specifically, the Swedish law states that the growing, drying or otherwise preparing of mushrooms containing the banned substances is illegal and will be treated as a narcotics crime in the same class as heroin and cocaine. (Note, however that it doesn’t appear to be illegal to pick them and eat them, as long as there was no other preparation involved, although that is just my interpretation). Not totally surprising, considering Sweden’s strict stance on narcotics.

However, I became increasingly angry the more I contemplated this bizarre statement written in law. A mushroom, that grows naturally all around in the fields and forests, oftentimes beside the very same chanterelle or other non-hallucinogenic varieties, can be declared against the law. To pick a liberty cap mushroom, bring it home and have it drying in the cupboard is considered an offense against the state. What eventually dawned on me and only succeeded in deepening my anger was that it isn’t illegal to pick and consume the poisonous, toxic species of mushroom that can have potentially fatal effects after eating. Can you think of a more blatant scenario to prove that the state is not just looking after their citizens’ well-being as they might claim. They are only interested in controlling the consciousness of the people and keeping it within what it considers to be reasonable bounds, within which can be maintained a population that can participate fully in the producer-and-consumer cycle so vital to the capitalist economic system.

There is growing evidence that the mushroom has been held in the highest regard for millenia in all manners of civilisations all across the globe. From stone statues of the Mayans of central America, to cave paintings in the mountains at Tassili n’Ajjer in North Africa, to stone carvings of Hindu goddesses in Angkor Wat, Cambodia, mushrooms have been depicted in a religious setting for thousands of years. Not to mention the Sami people of Lapland stretching across northern Scandinavia and into northern Russia, who are known to have used the amanita muscaria or fly agaric mushroom for its visionary properties. Mushrooms have been referred to as the flesh of the gods and have long been seen as a spiritual aid helping to keep balance with Nature.

It is truly a sign of our times, with our rational minds and our idea of being somehow separate (and above) Nature, that we condemn a fungus growing naturally all around us, treating it with such disdain and punishing those who wish to exercise their freedom of consciousness. How can we ever hope to heal the rift between ourselves and our Mother Earth if we turn our back so coldly on the gifts she presents to us each year? The visionary Terence McKenna suggested in his book The Food of the Gods that mushrooms may have been the catalyst for our sudden surge in consciousness from a primitive ape to a fully self-aware human being, after a doubling in brain size in just a million years. If he is right, then think of the quantum leap in awareness we may well be forsaking by shunning the possibilities for learning offered to us by these mushrooms sprouting up across the planet.

I truly believe we, in the western world, need the help of psilocybin mushrooms in order to rediscover our connection to the Earth and our role in the infinite complexity of the eco-systems surrounding us. We are running out of time, but if we enroll the help of this natural intelligence, perhaps we can make the next evolutionary leap away from the self-destructive, greedy, materialist species we have become, towards a more open, loving, all-embracing super-human we just might have the possibility of becoming. It is my opinion that we have nothing to lose but everything to gain by opening our minds to carefully controlled expeditions into the lesser known realms of the psyche with the mushroom as our catalyst.

Useful Links

General information on mushrooms: http://www.magic-mushrooms.net/

4 Part Field Guide Documentary: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h3FV_YbjlYI

More field tips: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ATwc1AhFu88&feature=g-like