The second “work” was to begin around 11 o’clock the following morning. I awoke early, perhaps around 7.30 as the acoustics in our circular room meant that if one or two were up and about, I would be obliged to follow. Needless to say the night’s sleep was filled with vivid dreams as the daime tea continued to do its work. I still felt my mind was quite rested and physically I felt good, though a little tired. In the kitchen, some more experienced heads were indulging in a spot of breakfast, despite the official word being that fasting should be done at least 4 hours before the ritual. Due to a touch of over-eating the night before, I decided to pass on breakfast and I perhaps felt a little more at ease following the official line of advice. The chatter over breakfast was invariably about people’s hopes and fears for the coming session as well as further reminiscing on the activities of the night before.
After such a positive experience the previous night, I still couldn’t help a slight sense of foreboding about the coming session. As previously mentioned, this was to be the day people got shit done. Any personal or emotional baggage could be dredged up regardless of where or when it was from. Dark demons could be faced. It seemed unpredictable and uncontrollable. I wasn’t even sure if I had any baggage to dredge up, so I was worried that there might be things that I had suppressed or consciously forgotten. Obviously I was a little afraid of what I might find if I went digging!
Norberto invited us to gather around again. We each gave a little status update to the group on how we were feeling and what our hopes were for the day. Some good, some bad. Either way, we were ready to begin. The ritual began in the same way as the previous evening, breaking into the Aya-, Aya-, Aya-huasca chant and forming our communion-like procession up to meet the shaman priest with the crystal jug filled with the sacred brew. Again, I was met by Norberto’s examining look when my turn arrived. He measured a shot, judging presumably by whatever mental and emotional vibes he can pick up from me. I believe he can see much deeper into a person than you can imagine. My eyes alone may betray a lot of feelings. I perform my customary nod and retreat to a spot by the altar. This time the bitterness is more palpable, although still not unpleasant. I swallowed, swept the glass with my finger and promptly sucked the finger. Right then, here we go again!
This time it was Matthew who put us through our paces with some stretching and breathing exercises. Some required dedicated focus as a good deal of coordination and balance was necessary. Again the exercises had the desired effect – body relaxed, mind focussed on the task ahead. The tingling had begun in my feet again, a welcome sensation. Next on the agenda was another novelty. We were to choose a partner and look into their eyes with a persistent gaze, without glancing away as we so often do in everyday life. Blinking was thankfully allowed, so it wasn’t so much of a staring competition! Norberto, our shaman guide, explained how rarely it is that we meet each others eyes in modern life, especially in large cities and towns where people prefer to avoid eye contact and maintain anonymity. Even with friends and loved ones prolonged eye contact is mostly avoided, otherwise social discomfort can arise. We have forgotten how it feels to look deeply into another’s eyes, which, don’t forget, have been referred to as the gateway to the soul even in our own western culture.
My chosen partner was a long-term friend, whom I’d first met twelve years ago when we shared a room together in university. Having known each other so long, we had never looked each other in the eye as we did for the next few minutes. As first, I admittedly felt a little uncomfortable holding eye contact longer than the social norm. That faded though as I noticed with an internal giggle that I could only focus on one eye at a time! Paul’s face also took on an altered appearance as everything around the eyes was blurry and changeable. After settling into our constant gaze I could feel what I could best describe as a strong energetic bond between us. Paul, I could see, was feeling it a bit stronger than I. He began to sway gently on his feet at first, muscles fully relaxed. Next his eyelids began to flutter and close. Mama Ayahuasca had come to him early, I thought. Later he was to describe seeing a flow of ancient symbols and knowledge pouring out from my pupils in a steady stream into his. Some sort of gateway had been opened, for which I had become an unwitting channel! As a sidenote, I would like to mention a scene in The Spirit Molecule documentary, where one participant in the DMT study describes seeing symbols pouring out of a single point – an uncanny similarity in experience.
Exercise over, Paul had to take his place on his mattress while I had to find a new partner. This time we were instructed to find a partner of the opposite gender to the one we previously had. I wandered awkwardly a few steps until my eyes met Suzanne’s, a German girl whom I hadn’t spoken to as yet. This was to be a different experience altogether – holding eye contact with a complete stranger for a prolonged period of time. Looking into Suzanne’s deep brown eyes turned out to be quite a profound experience. After a short time I became once again energetically locked with her eyes and fell into a quite trance-like state. The intensity of the warmth and love emanating from her eyes was almost overpowering. It was like looking into your mother’s eyes again as a child and feeling the love and security of her presence totally enveloping you. Quite similar to the warm, loving energies of the night before, this was an entirely positive way for me to begin the second work.
For others, the beginning wasn’t so positive. One woman had got straight down to business within the first few minutes of the ritual. She was already poised over the little blue bucket at the foot of her mattress, vomiting violently. Getting sick is quite common, it should be noted, and is even considered an important part of the ceremony. It is seen as a cleansing procedure, a way of getting up painful physical or mental problems and ejecting them from the body. Once out, the participant is free to move on from it.
By now we were all back in our familiar position on our mattresses, preparing for our individual journeys. Strange things were starting to happen. Shouts of terror rang out from one section of the room. Whatever demons this girl was facing, it was very unpleasant and she wasn’t willing to continue. There was however no turning back now. The ayahuasca forces you to face facts, whether it is pleasant or not. Despite her fear, she at least wasn’t alone. The many helpers and guides were on hand for precisely these kinds of situations. They can help talk a person through the difficult periods, with the hope that the demons will be confronted and dealt with rather than being further repressed. Others were by now in floods of tears, moaning and sobbing, in their own world of grief. As another sidenote, I would like to add that the acoustics in the circular building, combined with our heightened senses from the ayahuasca, meant that every sound – shout, moan, sob or giggle – was amplified and always seemed to come from right beside or behind you. There was no avoiding that we were all in this together, our experiences were intricately linked, yet still we were very much alone in our own world of experience.
The utter strangeness of the events around me had certainly had an unsettling effect on me. If anyone was to walk in on us now, they would surely think that they had walked straight into a mental asylum. Many were quite animated now. Not all negative, it should be pointed out. Some were in fits of giggles, others smiled widely and still others danced, hopped and skipped about the room. One quite memorable moment was when one participant, who had been conversing with himself for a time, suddenly declared the state to be corrupt and treacherous bastards. “The bastards”, he repeated over and over, “the state is corrupt, the treacherous bastards”. This generated quite a ripple of laughter around the room. I for one laughed at the mere concept of the state, which seemed totally meaningless now. The crying and the shouting had got to me though, so I decided to get outside for a little fresh air and gather my own thoughts.
As I walked around in the sunshine outside, I tried to take stock of things. Why hadn’t I gotten sick? Where were my demons and why didn’t I have anything to cry about? These were all genuine questions, probably stemming from my Catholic guilt – I shouldn’t be enjoying this, should I? I hadn’t felt much of an effect from the tea yet, probably because I was analysing everything too much, my mind fighting so hard to not let go. Every feeling, sensation or thought that came up was hurriedly assessed, trying to predict where things may be leading. Well, I thought, maybe another drop of the sacred brew will help me overcome the mind and step further into the realm of pure feeling, the heart. It was time to go back inside.
Norberto soon announced that they would be offering a second opportunity to take the ayahuasca. This time they would go around to each individual in their place, rather than lining up together. When my turn arrived, Norberto asked how I felt. I said that I hadn’t felt much of an effect and that I thought I was distracted by the activity around me. I needed to let go. He asked whether I had gotten sick, to which I replied in the negative. “Ok,”, said the shaman, looking deep into my eyes, “this one is a big one”. He poured the thick, syrupy substance from the glass jug into the shot glass, filling it right to the brim. My by now customary nod of the head followed and I began to drink it down. The taste certainly seemed to be becoming more and more bitter, each glass was a little harder to swallow. Still, tea drank, now I was once again entering unchartered territory. This time I wouldn’t have to wait long for Mama Ayahuasca to come.
Things are quite hard to explain from this point. Again, time began to dissolve and so what happened and in what chronological order are hard to define. Similar to the night before, strong bodily sensations started to blossom within me. Everything felt good to the touch and I lay there writhing and stretching like a playful kitten on my mattress. Yawning was also a surprisingly nice sensation! I wasn’t expecting visuals like the night before, as we now sat in total daylight. I was very mistaken however, as our room began its transformation all over again. The ceiling began to come alive, the waving, rippling effect of the wooden slats swept over and back. This time there was a very distinct sound accompanying it, perhaps best described as a writhing slithering sound of snake-skin on snake-skin. Everything was alive, nothing was static and the visuals churned and swirled in an ever-transforming tapestry. Before the weekend, I had expected to visualise natural landscapes, jungles, animals and birds. What I saw was quite different – everything had a strangely synthetic, other-worldly feel. Words fail me now as I try to bring it into language. There was a very distinct texture to everything I saw too, including the very air itself. Everything was vibrating, humming, purring. I felt a presence all around me, hands reaching out to me, beckoning and pointing, eager to show me more. I have to say it felt like a very playful, inviting presence – far from the menacing presence others appeared to be dealing with.
It had become entirely normal to see people on all fours with heads in buckets, vomiting and retching violently, people in tears with shoulders hunched and heaving with grief, others laughing and giggling maniacally. I noticed myself laughing at people getting sick or even people crying, without the slightest feeling of guilt on my part. At one point, however, I found myself in a fit of tears. I was like a child, loud, uncontrollable sobs, face stained with a steady stream of tears. I hadn’t cried in years, especially not in front of others. I was crying for everything I missed in life – my family and friends back home in Ireland, my brother in New York, my late granny who had passed away around three years ago. I realised just how much I loved all these people, and that I couldn’t spend even a fraction of the time I’d like to in their company. Photo images popped into my mind of those closest to me, clear as day, all of them smiling and happy. Warmth, love and compassion flooded my being and I cried uncontrollably. I even realised how much I missed my girlfriend back in Sweden, despite having been with her only a couple of days previously and was to see her again in just a few days time! Visions of my life in Sweden were also thrown at me, again all positive, showing me what I was lucky to have. What I felt Mama Ayahuasca was telling me was that it was ok to miss everyone at home – the loving bond I had was very strong and wouldn’t be broken. She was also showing me that I had a lot to be thankful for in my present situation in Sweden, and that by leaving that behind I would have many people and places that I would also miss. All in all, things were good – be happy and grateful for what you have. Also make sure you show people how much you care and that they are loved.
So, the tears subsided and soon gave way to happy laughter. Laughter just as uncontrollable as the preceding tears! What a total turn-around! I could hear Paul laughing at me, which only fueled my fire and made me laugh more. Now my tears of sadness soaking into my pillow were joined by tears of joy. The circle was complete.
The day’s journey, however was far from complete. Things were only getting weirder and weirder. Now it wasn’t just the ceiling that appeared different, but the entire room was completely transformed. It appeared other-worldly. We seemed to be in a bubble completely separated from that which we call reality. It occurred to me that this seemed similar to a pantheon of Roman gods, lounging in their heavenly abode. People sang and danced, rapt in a swirl of creativity and freedom. I, on the other hand, was rooted firmly to my mattress, capable only of wriggling and writhing from one position to another. Not to forget yawning, of course. I was witnessing an amazing burst of creative energy, to which I was but a passive observer. Else on the hauntingly beautiful harmonium, singing hymns and repetitive mantras. The shaman played soft and gentle melodies on the guitar. Most notably I thought was Gráinne on the harp. I had been fascinated by the harp first as a child at Brú Ború at the foot of the Rock of Cashel. An incredibly delicate and captivating sound and very typically Irish.It suited the mood perfectly and I was amazed to hear afterwards that it was the first time that Gráinne had played in front of people and had only been learning for a few months. One wouldn’t have guessed. Besides the wonderful musical contributions, some random bursts of poetry also burst forth, to be granted generous, almost rapturous applause.
I felt by this stage a little lost and confused. Nothing was particularly threatening, so it wasn’t that I was afraid as such. I just seemed to be drifting in a timeless void, the strangeness of the scene around me finally starting to overwhelm me. I had no real idea of where I was at this point. I remembered vaguely that I was here for a weekend, but days or hours just didn’t have any meaning that I could grasp. Simply put, I didn’t know how to get back to what I considered normal and I didn’t know if I was ever going back. While the creative energy blossomed and bloomed all around me, I felt very much in the role of observer rather than participant, and what I was observing was too fantastical for me to fully grasp. I had spent some time kneeling with my little bucket at the ready, feeling nauseous as my stomach churned and tied itself into knots. A little dry retching was all I could manage though, there was to be no physical cleansing for me. I do hate getting sick and normally avoid it at all costs, so I think my mind was battling my body in this regard. My physical discomfort was spreading – I had broken into a cold sweat and lay curled in the foetal position, trying to ease my stomach cramps. After a time I felt totally unable to move. My visions were still powerful – the eternally churning wheel of creation turned relentlessly before my eyes. There was no turning out the lights. I needed only two things in life now – a drink of water and a trip to the toilet to relieve my bladder. A bottle of water stood directly behind my head, only inches away. The toilet was a mere 10 or 15 metres away from where my mattress lay. Both seemed miles out of reach, an impossible goal. I could vaguely hear the shaman announce the end of the ceremony, and realised everyone was standing again in the circle, hands joined and chanting their thanks to Mother Earth. I was still so far gone, detached completely from my surroundings. Michel the friendly giant offered his hand in warm gesture of understanding and I could only hold his hand and gaze in awe at the utter godliness of him towering over me. Paul, I recall, also tried to talk to me about something but I was totally incapable of conversation – words were unrelated symbols that together made no sense.
Finally, as the others chatted and laughed around me, the medicine loosened its grip enough for me to take an almighty thirst-quenching gulp of water. I was also building the courage to embark on the by now urgent journey to the bathroom. With wobbly legs, I stumbled my way across the room to the toilet, which was luckily unoccupied. I promptly relived my complaining bladder and sat trying to get a grip on myself. I couldn’t shit despite my willingness and desire to do so. Suddenly I realised how claustrophobic the toilet was and decided at once to flee. Clumsily I buttoned my trousers and tried to escape. There was a knack to opening the door, which in my panic I had forgotten. I weakly threw my shoulder against it to no avail. What a way to die I thought, caged up in a toilet. Comparisons to Elvis would be made later! Finally though I managed to get it open, by chance re-discovering the knack and was met by a much welcomed fresh cool breeze. By this point I was white-faced, dripping with cold sweat and feeling very light-headed. I wasn’t sure if I still needed the toilet, so I was reluctant to leave. I was on the floor on all fours, with my forehead pressed against the cold wall. Suddenly a pair of feet appeared back between my legs outside the door. I was caught, I thought, they had found me. I waited, but the feet didn’t move and nothing was said. At last, I decided I had to turn myself in and give up. I arose slowly and turned facing my discoverer who was none other that our shaman. As if facing a wild, cornered animal he hung back in an open, non-threatening manner. He asked if I was ok, to which I replied that I couldn’t decide if I needed the toilet or not, and was too tired to make the trip back to my mattress. How tired I really was! Norberto said that I just needed to lie down, calm my blood pressure and relax. He guided me carefully back and I collapsed gratefully onto my mattress again. I thanked him and lay for quite some time dozing, allowing the medicine to finally release me from its grip, letting a normal complexion return to things.
To say the least I was glad to be back in my own body, with time reinstated and the familiar feel of our human reality almost fully restored. The kitchen beckoned with another royal vegetarian feast awaiting. The usual excited chatter was in full swing as I entered. I was relieved to be a part of the group again, no longer lost and cut adrift, unable to partake in the activity. First off I apologised to Paul for totally blanking him earlier when he tried to make conversation. Obviously no hard feelings there, it was probably plain as day that I was still away with the fairies. Then followed the recollections and stories from the last five or six hours of the ritual. I remember an overwhelming sense of relief and that I had really gotten through something tough that day. I’m not sure I’d go as far as to say I experienced the death of my ego, but there clearly was a time when I couldn’t tell if I would be coming back to what I knew as reality.
Talking with the others really helped to put things into perspective. Hearing how others went through similar experiences, visions and emotions was comforting, as was speaking to people who had gone through a whole lot worse than I had – dark, threatening and frightening experiences. People had really gone through a lot, it seemed like years worth of experience packed into a few hours. The mood was bright and positive that evening as seemingly everyone felt a real sense of having taken on something difficult and coming through unscathed on the other side. Some had faced up to some dark demons from the past and present, so really I should count myself lucky to have had such a positive experience overall, with feelings of love to the fore.
Later I talked a little to Norberto about my fear of not coming back to reality. He said that he never feared for me as with the ayahuasca one goes into one’s inner being. Everything that is experienced is coming from and through oneself. So, unlike LSD for example, where one has a sensation of journeying into outer space and may conceivably be lost in its vastness, with ayahuasca the journey is into inner space and a coming together with Mother Earth. These were comforting words from an expert in traversing this space. I chatted further with a few others, slowly grounding myself and feeling more and more at ease. Soon it would be time for bed again, as we had an even earlier start the next day and it all began again!
Click here for Part III!