Ayahuasca is a medicinal brew that has been used in the Amazon for thousands of years. It contains DMT, or dimethyltryptamine. DMT is a naturally occurring psychedelic compound found in many biological organisms, including the human body. It’s suspiciously illegal in the United States.
I volunteered at an ayahuasca lodge in Iquitos, Peru in 2011. I’d like to share my experience with you in this post, and later, connect some dots on what role I think it can play in the life of a drug addict.
As the night of my first ceremony approached, I made it a point to remain balanced on the scales of my vulnerability. I prepared myself with meditation. I dropped any expectations I had been holding. I thought about my intentions as it became time for lift off.
I walked to the maloca, mentally and spiritually groomed to open myself up to the random. It was quiet, not yet dark. The candles were lit. The insects of the jungle had not yet begun to buzz.
Eight mats were laid out in a circle along the parameters. Each one had a small bucket next to it. These were the purge buckets. Don Eladio was the shaman. He was the facilitator of the ceremony. He was the guide. He was wearing all white. He donned a colorful headdress with macaw feathers on it. He was a man whose presence alone could either shake one out of their boots or make one feel at home, depending on whether or not that person was either a friend or an enemy to themselves.
Just before the ceremony began, Eladio walked around the maloca with a fan made of dried leaves in his hand. He gently brushed it through the air. He whistled lightly, as if to clear away unwanted guests and invite new ones in. He grabbed the bottle of ayahuasca that had been sitting on the table, and blew mopacho smoke inside of it. He followed this with more buoyant whistles. He then said a prayer in Spanish. Mystery rose. The air got thicker. A calm presence emanated through the place.
Eight of us laid there, each intently focused on our own moment. As I was sitting on my mat, I felt as if my blood pressure was rising. I was about to step into unknown territory. I carried a healthy apprehension within me, and my heart beat had become more pronounced. The thick smell of mopacho smoke filled the air.
The shaman began calling each person up to drink the brew from a gourd. When he called me…I walked up cautiously. I held an intention in my heart as I approached. Show me what I need to see, I thought. Teach me what I need to learn.
He made a few more whistles and blew smoke in the direction of the gourd. He extended it to me. I grabbed it from him and blew my intentions into it. I took two big gulps. It was the most bitter, foul, stomach-churning liquid I had ever tasted. I went back to my mat. I sat. I waited…….The candles were blown out. It was pitch black. Silence…
The shaman began beating the drum softly. Buhm buhm buhm..
He started singing his icaros slowly, “Pa cha ma ma…”
I was nervous.
He was calm as he sang his songs. The sound of them took my attention off of everything else for a moment.
.“Pacha mamma mu cha na pi…” Mystery had been set into motion through his rhythm.
“Yu yar in chis ma ma tai ta.” He sang with a melody that had been passed down the generational chain. It raised to the roof and touched the ground, exactly when it needed to.
My mouth began salivating, not knowing what was going to happen. The drum kept beating, in and out of time.
When he had stopped playing, he started shaking the fan made of dried leaves. They crisped through the air. Sh sh sh sh sh sh. It was as dark as a moonless night, I couldn’t see my own hand in front of my face.
After about twenty minutes had gone by, my senses started to become one with the icaros. Colorful geometric patterns began dancing. Night was then no longer pitched.
“Hua sin chis ta jai llun chis ta…” His songs began sounding more familiar to me. They comforted me, as they began carrying me into an unknown world. “Munus can chis cau sai nin chis ta.”
Stay calm. Remember to let go, I said to myself. My eyes were wide, but they were closed. I was falling deep into trance.
The geometric patterns began fading in and out and I became less aware of my body. The shaman paused. Silence split the air. I felt at ease.
An eternity went by. This is too silent for comfort, I thought. Inward collapse seemed near.
The bugs began buzzing. They zung. They were zinging. They were doing it in layers.
This is strange, I thought to myself, but at the same time, it wasn’t strange at all. We were all connected just as much as we were apart.
ZZZZzzzzzzzzzzZZZZzzzzzz. They stopped. Silence.
Fear crept up.
I tried to balance myself. Breathe. Stay calm. Get comfortable with this silence, I said to myself. Implosion was on the brink.
At the perfect moment, before the universe could sustain no longer, the shaman began playing the drum and chanting again. He had saved me from falling into the chasm of silence.
“Pa cha ma ma mu cha na pi….yur yar in chis ma ma tai ta.” The icaros were a roller coaster in and of themselves. The geometric patterns danced back into my visual field, flowing smoothly with the sound. I brought myself back to my bodily awareness. The shaman and the drum got louder, and my skin began to rattle.
“Su mac so coy, cu tas chas qui hauy co.” The world sped up as the rhythm had changed.
How long have I been here? I wondered. Bubbles rumbled in the distance as someone had begun vomiting in response to my question. My own stomach churned. The drum and chanting had zoomed in. The drum got heavier. My physical body had been shaken loose.
“Hua hua man qui, na a ya huas cay cu ta.” The shaman started dancing in circles as his songs got more wild. He shaped shifted as he had mastered the flow of energy. I became disoriented beyond the loss of my body. The controls of reality were being tampered with! The world started to turn.
What the fuck is going on! I spouted in my head. The drum had knocked my brains off of my ears. It had taken me away. The thump bumped me up and down. The songs carried me further.
“Ur pi cu nac ta qu in din go ya ri co.” I didn’t know what they were anymore.
Loads of snot was running out of my nose. My chin met the wooden planks as my jaw dropped. What the fuck is going on! What the fuck am I doing! I had entered a state of bizarre incomprehensibility. The chanting had become mad gibberish. Its intensity had risen beyond normal levels. The doors holding the secrets to in-sanity were pried open. The hinges had been blown off! I heard a hissing in the background.
What the fuck is happening! I found myself to be no longer me.
And who the fuck is that? I wondered, looking at the shaman. He was no longer him. I didn’t know what he was. He had turned into the mad gibberish he had been chanting, The drum was transforming me, its resonance was knocking me loose.
I can’t go any further! I thought urgently, but to no avail. It got louder.
buhmp thump bhump bhump bhump thump buhmp.
Pure, utter terror sat in. Impending doom stung true.
I’m going to die! I feared. I’m going to fucking die! The speed dials of reality were turned all the way up. I’m on the fucking verge of death! FUCK! I stood up. I need to get some help. The madness didn’t let loose. It only persisted. I was certain the shaman was to blame.
“Da dai da dai,….din din din din din din..”
WHAT THE FUCK HAVE I GOTTEN MYSELF IN TO!!! Failing to make sense of it all, I fell deeper into an evil spell of my own making. I was blind to my own part in it.
The shaman is a psychopath! I proclaimed. He did this! I’ve been tricked! This is pure evil! What the fuck! Why why why!
“Da dai da dai…din din din din din din!”
I had no choice but to fall back to my mat and accept my death.
What about my mom? What about my dad? What about my brothers? They’re gonna be devastated when they found out I’ve died. There was no turning back.
I had no perception of the outside world at this time. My point of consciousness had traveled so far into the depth of my being, the floodgates of evil had no choice but to be blasted open with great force. I was being stripped away, layer by layer. Pain ripped through me as the scabs were peeled off one by one. I wanted to shield my eyes. I wanted to curl into a ball, but I couldn’t allow myself to run in fear. I had to accept it.
Then, from the deepest place I know, I began purging up the bile of my life.
The flow was incredible. Powerful. The black and white spiral of hypnosis had begun to unwind. The release had been set into motion. The shaman had transformed into a magnificent energetic creature. He came to my aid. He could see what I was going through. He began chanting in my direction, blowing mopacho smoke on me.
“Inti wasi man co pic ca!” He had matched his frequency with mine to help pull me out.
I purged violently.Visions of my life began running backwards, seamlessly, with increasing acceleration as I continued to let it out.
I was taken on a savage journey that stretched back beyond infancy, where I was forced to watch the consequences of being hypnotized over the span of my existence. My eyes had been pinned open with needles as I was being forced to watch how I had played a part of the perpetuation of evil in the world. I was sick to my stomach, but I was getting to the bottom of it.
“Cu chu rumi cay yan pica!” The chants echoed into my being. They dug into me and undermined revolting elements that had been dwelling inside. The shaman had been luring this evil out of me with “his madness.”
“Cu muy cus pan yu pay chan chis…” The purge had to make energetic twists and turns to untangle itself and be poured out. The icaros acted as the road signs, helping it to navigate itself. They were a canoe, helping residue to come loose and unhook itself from itself.
It was pure, utter fucking madness. It was painfully real. I wanted to wish it all away. I just couldn’t though. I had to keep with it, and I couldn’t for the life of me, figure out what the fuck was actually happening.
The depth of the grumbles was deep and low, rolling. Gargling. Barbling. The purge bucket was hundreds of miles below me as I watched the evil flow. It was difficult to take my eyes from the cesspool that had come from my own body.
Burbling poured out from all directions of the maloca. Some of the sounds came from the places where the dinosaurs had once dwelled.
I then began flailing about for someone to help me out of the dizziness. The flailing was the Tourettes of the madness, slapping me in the face.
“WHAT THE FUCK IS GOING ON?” I thought, with great demand.
And then, I heard someone from the other side of the maloca purge their guts up. The thick liquid sound then reminded me what I was doing there.
Oh, yea…I forgot, I thought, bewildered, but how did I let it come to this? On the brink of answering my own question, my purge had answered it for me.
The more I purged, the closer I got to having my bearings about me again.
The gurgling and burbling began to subside….
I gasped and let out a sigh of relief, wiping the heavy slime, spit and snot from my face. What the fuck is going on? I thought again.
I started laughing hysterically at the cruel joke that had been played on me, by my own self over the course of time. At the same instant, there seemed nothing too funny about it. I felt compassion for myself for being so naïve to fall for it (from grace).
I felt as if I had endured a necessary initiation into the school of life.
When everything began to calm, I found myself sitting in new skin, vulnerable. I observed this “newness.” I could only observe it for so long though, before the threat of complacency began to show. It became apparent to me…I had to get involved with my evolution.
I then found myself to be in the place where Beethoven had created his music. Innovation sprang to mind. There was only one problem though…I wasn’t Beethoven.
Participate, I then heard a voice say to me, you must participate with your will. I had to consciously partake in the music of life.
After four hours of torture undoing into beauty, the shaman had helped guide our space ship down to a safe landing. The candles were lit. The light of them bathed the darkness in a smooth and gentle way. The ceremony was over.
Everything returned to normal, in a relative sense. Eladio had turned back into his regular self and no longer resembled a madman…I no longer felt as if I were having a one on one consultation with evil on the front lines of insanity. I no longer resembled a madman.
I had never experienced anything so terrifying. I had never experienced anything so excruciatingly difficult to endure. It was an initiation to into a life aiming to transcend fear. I woke up the next morning feeling revitalized. I could hear the music and the sky was blue. I was light on my feet. My skin was glowing. I could feel life itself shining through my eyes. Alas, I had been cured.
But I was still an ostrich.
My experience had allowed me to dig deep into myself and let go of of heavy emotional energies that I didn’t even know I had been holding on to. This gave way for a new energy to enter into my life. There was one “problem” with this….the new energy had entered my life, but I didn’t know what to do with it. This increased the chances of me using it in destructive ways were I not to intend it in a direction based upon harmony.
At the time when I had drank ayahuasca, I didn’t hold the belief that addiction was a disease and I didn’t think I was a drug addict, so it wasn’t long until I had slipped back into my old way of living…but with less fear than before. I had become an ostrich who had merely imprinted upon the phoenix. This can be a recipe for disaster when the monkey begins to show its fangs. Who or what do you think had begun driving my car after that? The vampire is sly.
I’ve come to realize that peeling onions yields results though…and that it’s an ongoing process of refining. They don’t say experience is the teacher of fools, for no reason.
In terms of drug addicts seeking some type of aid in recovery, I believe ayahuasca can play an important role in dealing with “emotional baggage,” but from my experience, an ayahuasca experience alone, will not suffice. Having the desire to stop drinking and doing drugs is the most important thing. Then, there must be maintenance that comes after, and this, to me, surely has to be the more important aspect of any type of recovery.
If someone enters an ayahuasca ceremony thinking they can be cured of their drug addiction, I believe they are entering dangerous ground. It seems more reasonable to me, to approach it as something that can aid in “setting the stage for a new life.”
If there is a dissonance (like there was with me) that wants to keep living the old life on the left hand, and wants to live a new life on the right, there’s a good chance the monkey will devolve into some type of tick or leech. The phoenix doesn’t rise from the ashes because it carries its old body with it, it rises from the ashes because it has undergone a complete transformation in a positive light…and even that I believe, is an ongoing process of refining.
I delve into this issue in more detail in my memoir Losing My Mind in America (which I’m currently trying to get published).
Also, I plan to share more of my experiences that revolve around these topics in a future post, so stay tuned if you’re interested.
What are y’all’s thoughts about this? Please feel free to leave a comment in the section below. Hopefully we can come to a better understanding through sharing our experiences with each other. Thanks for reading!
(Eladio can be found at Yachaywasi Lodge)