Teachings of the Amazonian Plant Spirits

flic following twenty-four personal accounts describe the ayahuasca experiences of people from a wide variety of backgrounds—most, 'though not all, from North America or Europe. Most of the sessions fall under the category that I'm calling hybrid shamanic psychological rituals, although a few describe experiences with one or the other of the Brazilian churches that use the vine. In their own words, these individuals describe the healing insights, perceptions, and emotional responses to the vision-teachings they received in the ayahuasca state. Since, in many cases, quite some time had elapsed from the time the sessions occurred and the time these accounts were written, the contributors were also asked to reflect on the long-term consequences and significance of their ayahuasca journeys.

In choosing these personal accounts, I was particularly interested in selecting those who reported more ecological consciousness, more awareness of the threats and challenges facing our culture, and a greater commitment to a lifestyle that incorporates both spiritual practice and respect for all of nature. This is not to deny that some ayahuasca experiences may be painful and unpleasant and that some may not have very profound consequences, but to reinforce the point that we are not dealing primarily with the automatic effects of a drug; rather we are dealing with an ancient shamanic initiatory practice in which the vine-tea can function to amplify one's awareness of the interconnected web of all life.

Ralph Metzner

// \\ Initiation into Ancient Lineage "

ofvidionary Healerd

The following account, by a psychologist in his fifties, illustrates many of the classic elements of ayahuasca visions: the encounters with snakes and jaguars, the sense of being met, taught, and healed by conscious intelligent beings or spirits. He learns to sing, in self-defense against abusive behavior. There are insights into the processes of perception and judgment and a profound feeling of acceptance and gratitude.

My initiation to ayahuasca occurred by way of an ethnobotanist friend who had spent considerable time in South America studying with mestizo ayahuasqueros in Peru. He had learned how to grow the two plants that compose the medicine in Hawaii and had prepared the brew according to the traditional recipe. The setting was a spacious house set among trees in a rural area of northern California. We drank the brew, which has a taste that is a strange mixture of bitterness and syrupy sweetness, in almost total darkness, with only a candle or two. We listened to the Mayan music of Xochimoci. I began to feel very relaxe ' heavy, and soft, but also as if my head were expanding.

A swaying tapestry of visions came into view, at first mostly geometric patterns, which looked familiar from previous experiences with tryptamine hallucinogens, including psilocybe mushrooms. As usual, I experienced these geometric patterns with distaste verging on disgust: they seem tacky, plastic, and artificial, like the décor of a shopping mall or a Las Vegas casino. As I searched for the meaning of my reaction, I was shown how this is the human technocultural overlay on the natural world: I was looking at the human world! As I accepted that, with some regret, I was able to see through it to the pulsating energies of the world of all-encompassing nature, permeated by spiritual, astral beings and forms.

There were shapes and images of plants, animals, humans, ethereal temples and cities, flying craft, and floating structures. Particular images from time to time emerged out of the continuous flux and then were reabsorbed back into it. As the images of forms and objects receded back into the swaying fabric of visions, I realized that I was seeing them as if projected on the twisting coils of an enormous serpent with glittering silvery and green designs on its skin. I could not see either head or tail of the serpent, which gave me a rough sense of its size: it encompassed the entire two-story building. Curiously, the sight of this gigantic serpent did not evoke the slightest fear; on the contrary, my emotional response was one of awe and humility at the magnificence of this being and its spiritual power. I was reminded of Pablo Amaringo's ayahuasca paintings, which depict this giant serpent seen in the visions as the "mother spirit," on which other smaller spirits ride and travel. In the Amazon region they see three different serpent mamas—of the air, of the river, and of the forest. Here there seemed to be one enormous serpent mother, coiling and rippling through the entire length and breadth of the valley in which we are situated.

Then I met another serpent in my visions, more "normal" in its dimensions: in fact it was about the same size as me. It entered my body through my mouth and started to slowly wind its way through my stomach and intestines over the next two or three hours. When it got to the gut, there was some cramping, and incredibly loud sounds of gurgling and digesting were coming from my viscera. I became aware of a morphic resonance between serpent and intestines: the form of the snake is more or less a long intestinal tract, with a head and a tail end; and conversely, our gut is serpentine, with its twists and turns and its peristaltic movement. So the serpent, in winding its way through my intestinal tract was "teaching" my intestines how to be more powerful and effective—certainly a gut-level experience!

Then I saw several black-skinned people, dancing as they came toward me and receded away. They were always in pairs, like twins, moving in parallel fashion: I wondered whether they represented the spirits of the two paired plants of the ayahuasca tea. Then, as I was lying sideways on a couch, a jaguar suddenly came into me. It was an enormous black feline male, and he entered my body assuming the same semireclining position I was in. Shortly after I noticed it, the jaguar was gone. Another time, as I was on my hands and knees, I distinctly felt a bird landing on my back. I was being briefly introduced to some of the different spirits that the ayahuasca medicine can access. The realization grew within me that with practice and increased concentration, I would be able to hold the encounters with the different animal spirits for longer, and then be able to question them for divination. Don Fidel, one of the old ayahuasqueros, said: "the visions come into you and heal you."

Images of Mayan gods and underworld demons dancing appeared: skeletal, crippled, diseased, skin flapping, blood dripping, pustular, bulbous, with gaping wounds and cut-off heads, toads on their necks, pierced with thorns. Their message, repeated several times, was: "you don't have to do anything." By incorporating death, decay, disease, and other unimaginable horrors into their dance of transformation, a deep inner healing took place, seemingly independent of any personal involvement on my part. I was astonished at being initiated into this ancient lineage of visionary healers.

It was late in the evening, and I was again on my hands and knees, feeling overwhelmed and exhausted by this gut-wrenching, yet soul-refreshing, journey through the netherworlds of jungle, river, and serpents. I lowered my forehead to touch the ground, then I realized I was falling slowly through the earth, through soil and rock, moving faster and faster, and then dropping out the other side into deep space, vast its darkness, exhilarated, filled with countless points of light, scintillae, luminous streaks and stars of the universe.

My next encounter with the vine of visions occurred on New Year's Eve. I wanted to explore the experience of a larger amount of the medicine and asked my partner to "sit" for me. We were in a house by the ocean and had tape recordings of icaros, the healing chants of the ayahuas-queros, made by Eduardo Luna. In the days before I had been thinking about sacrifice and self-sacrifice, and wondering what the experience of being eaten by another animal was like. We humans, having become top predator in the food chain, have not had that experience for many thousands of years. But we used to: our existence during the Stone Age and Ice Age was surely marked by many fatal encounters with large predators. I had a lingering concern that this relationship between two organisms as "eater" and "food" was somehow imbalanced. Given that all processes of life work on the principle of perpetual balance and exchange, what, I wondered, did the one who is eaten get out of it? The ayahuasca spirits answered my question as soon as I posed it: "If I am eaten by the serpent, I acquire its power and knowledge. Allow someone to eat you and you gain their power." Suddenly I thought about the Mayan sculptures and paintings showing a gigantic serpent-dragon, with the human face of a god looking out of its jaws. I felt ready to be eaten.

In my first experience with ayahuasca, I had "swallowed" the serpent—although it certainly seemed as if the serpent was taking the initiative. This time, it was my turn to be swallowed, and digested, by the serpent. When the visions started they were connected with various involuntary bodily reactions, especially excretion, purging, burping, and farting. The alchemical furnace was cooking, and various gases and fluids were spraying and oozing out, on an etheric or psychic level mostly, and occasionally on the physical level as well. It wasn't painful, just strange and unusual. I felt like I was in areas of my body I had never consciously been in before, this lifetime. At one point I felt I was turned inside out—some force reached into my mouth and throat and pulled my insides out, until my inner organs were all on the outside, hanging out, so to speak, and limbs and muscles had become packed inside.

The ayahuasca jungle elves, the little green guys, were carrying away what looked like armor plates and metallic pieces. I got the sense they were taking apart pieces of a structure, to wash and polish them and tune them up for better functioning. Suddenly I realized the structure they were dismantling was myself. I yelled after them (inwardly), "Hey, wait, that's me you're carrying away there." Without missing a beat, they replied cheerfully, "Not to worry, we'll put you back together, you'll be fine." All the time they were singing in the rhythmic chants of the icaros we were hearing. I had experienced, and heard of, shamanic dismemberment experiences before, where you are pounded and pulverized, or sliced and cut up, as a prelude to eventual healing reconstitution. But this was the first time I experienced this kind of civilized, courteous, efficient dismantling. The green elves were taking apart my character armor, and giving me back an improved, more flexible, more comfortable body-mind.

The icaros provided an essential support for this kind of radical transformation of somatic consciousness. Without them I'm sure I would have felt lost and frightened. The rapid rhythm of the chants kept me moving through the jungle of visions. The warm, deep-throated voice of the ayahuasqueros brought soothing comfort, making even the most outrageously intimate interventions of the medicine tolerable. At one point, I found myself sinking into a mood of profound grief and anguish, being wracked by heart-wrenching sobs. But I could not tell what this grief was about. Then I realized I had been listening to a portion of the recording in which a woman being healed in an ayahuasca ceremony is telling her story. I could not understand the words, but they were accompanied by anguished sobbing and crying. It seemed as if I was experiencing the feelings of someone relating the loss of a loved one. After her anguished lament, the warm, soothing voice of the ayahuasquero, with infinite tenderness, offered a healing balm for the tormented soul. I later found out that, in fact, that track on the recording was the healing of a woman whose husband had been killed.

I had two moments of considerable anxiety. The first occurred when I was experiencing so many extremely unfamiliar physiological sensations, such as being turned inside out, that I couldn't tell whet my vital signs, i.e., pulse and breathing, were okay. So I asked my partner to verify that I was indeed exhibiting all the normal signs of healthy aliveness. After receiving reassurance on that score, I then started to worry that I might be losing my mind, going really insane. Again I asked my partner, and after a moment of consideration she replied that since I posed the question in a perfectly rational manner, it did not seem to her that I was showing signs of insanity. From this I concluded that the rational and reflective capacities are not impaired during these interior journeys; it's just that an enormous variety of nonrational, hyper-sensory, and totally novel perceptions are added to the total stream of experience.

I was given teachings concerning the attitude and actions of the warrior in relation to the visions. The visionary warrior is not just passively taking in the visions, as we do when watching a film or television, or during most dreaming. The warrior is actively looking at them, observing the details, searching for the meaning behind the appearances. This is what is meant by the warrrior's impeccability: s/he is without stain or blemish, no egocentric projections are distorting perception. The warrior is never a victim and does not idealize the condition of vulnerability. Although s/he can be wounded of course, as anyone can, whether in the jungle of subjective visions or the urban jungle, such wounds are taken care of in the appropriate way.

Related to this teaching was a method of analyzing perception that I had learned in an earlier visionary state, and that I continued to practice. I was shown that there are three phases in the process of sense perception, whether of inner or outer reality: first, there is experiencing, the pure sensory contact; second, there is the action of the inner observer, witnessing the experience; and third, there is the recording and communicating of the experience, which necessarily involves external expression in word, or sound, or paint, or other medium. Buddhist mindfulness meditation (vipassana), I realized, focuses on the second phase, the witnessing. To really complete an experience, I was shown, we need to go through all three phases. Painful or traumatic experiences are often incomplete, sometimes because there are powerful prohibitions on the third phase of communicating. Healing or recovery from trauma involves telling the story, so that it is shared, believed, and recognized.

In preparing for my next experience with ayahuasca, I asked my guiding spirits to help me bring through some songs (icaros), as I had been very impressed by the power of the songs to channel the visions in a healing direction. The way this came about was a complete surprise. I took the medicine with two other friends, one with considerable experience with Amazonian healing rituals, the other a North American physician-healer, for whom it was the first experience. A woman friend of mine and the wife of the physician were also there as sitters. When the medicine started to come on, the physician expressed his discomfort with the changes he was experiencing by loud and repeated retching into a bowl that he cradled in his lap, and by hurling one insult after another at myself and my other friend. The emotional purging of his hostile outbursts paralleled the physical purging of his vomiting.

At first I thought this was an initial shock reaction that would eventually pass. But as it continued and showed no signs of abating, a feeling of considerable annoyance and irritation came up. My more experienced friend was similarly annoyed and withdrew under a blanket into a cocoon of silence. As I learned later, his fear was that he might be triggered into a similar negative reaction. My own reaction was slightly different: I found myself thinking that I didn't want this barrage of negativity to destroy or distort the positive, healing journey I had envisioned for myself. I laid down, turning away from the others, and suddenly found myself chanting simple rhythmic phrases, in a low, soft voice. Some of them related to the hostile verbiage still coming from our physician friend: "he's telling people what's what, and what's not," or "why is he kicking me." They functioned to ward off the attack energies, which gradually receded into the background of my awareness.

The chant that continued went something like this, with numerous repetitions, different combinations and variations of the lines, in a kind of sing-song rhythm:

"O the woman, O the man / O the man, O the woman / O the song of the woman / O the song of the man / O the song of the longing / O the longing of the song / O the song of the longing / of the woman for the man / O the longing of the song / of the man for the womar The tone of my voice changed back and forth between masculine and feminine, as the chant emanated a soothing, comforting aura through our little group. Eventually, even our agitated friend calmed down. I

was profoundly moved by this gift of healing song from the ayahuasca spirits. I had known that songs could heal before, but what was new to my understanding here was that they could also function in a protective manner against toxic emotional negativity.

A memorable journey with ayahuasca took place in Hawaii, in a house on the slopes of the Mauna Loa volcano on the Big Island. Five men and three women constituted the group, all fairly experienced travelers. There were some differences of expectation that had not been resolved, leading to some uncertainty, at least on my part, on whether singing would be acceptable. One woman was vomiting with volcanic intensity. I decided to pursue whatever was presented to me.

Lying on the floor, looking up at the pattern of light and shade made by the ceiling beams, I had two visions. First, I saw the outline of the body of a huge lizard, looking up at him from below, as if he had just landed on a skylight in the roof. The image stayed there the whole night. I felt he was protecting us. He was Itzamna, the Mayan sky god, who takes the form of a lizard. Later, I became an iguana, feeling the unusual sensation of having a heavy tail, as long again as my whole torso.

The second image on the ceiling was of a man, sitting at the entrance of a cave, looking out into a brighter landscape. He had a pointed hat or cap on and was carrying a large staff. I had no idea what to make of this image; it too persisted, even when I returned from an interaction involving other people and situations. Even with repeated questioning, I could not get any further clarification or elaboration on the basic theme, nor any understanding of the meaning of the vision.

Not until about eight months later, when I was on a fasting vision quest in the White Mountains of California, did I finally see the meaning of that vision. I was sitting at the entrance to a cave where I was going to spend the night, looking down into the valley flooded with evening light, when I suddenly remembered the ayahuasca vision: I was the man, with a pointed cap and a staff, sitting at the entrance to a cave. The vision had been precognitive or prophetic. This was one of many visions and dreams that have led me over the past years to the conviction that many of our visions and dreams are partially precog-nitive, but it is easy to miss the connection if we don't make a point of checking and comparing our recorded perceptions with subsequent events and experiences.

In a final experience I can relate here, I took a faily large amount of ayahuasca alone, accompanied only by my partner. My intention was to gain more insight into the processes of visionary experience. I was taught a number of very valuable lessons, confirming insights from Buddhist and other disciplines of meditation. After one to two hours, the swirling, swaying mass of kaleidoscopic, geometric shapes flowed around and through me, softly exploding and imploding, changing so rapidly that I was unable to verbalize any description. I was learning to shift my focus of attention back and forth between visions, which are more "up there," and bodily sensations, which are more "down there." For short periods I could even hold both simultaneously. "When I tried to speak however, they both disappeared.

I noticed that when I started to worry about some bodily sensation, thinking about it in a hypochondriacal way, the pulsing flow of images slowed down and stopped. When I breathed deeply and stopped worrying, it started up again. So my first lesson, confirming what my meditation teachers had taught me, was: stop worrying about your experience, it only blocks the flow of energy.

Then I also noticed that when I judged any aspect of my visions as being ugly or horrible or bad, this also stopped the flow of experience. In trying to resist or ward off the undesirable or unacceptable parts of my experience, I would only succeed in fixing it in my field of attention, and indeed making it even more menacing. The judgment "I can't stand to see that," kept that (whatever it was) right in front of me. When I ceased to judge it, that image merged back into the stream of visions. So my second lesson was: stop judging your experiences as good or bad—resistance fixes and magnifies the negative.

The next teaching occurred when my partner left the room, a.__ I suddenly felt a strong desire to have her sitting next to me. Like a child wanting its mother I began to fret and get angry and was no longer aware of anything else, whether visions or bodily sensations. The feeling of craving and wanting something that wasn't there took over my entire attention and obliterated all other aspects of my experience that had been there. Here was incontrovertible confirmation of the second of the Buddha's Four Noble Truths: the source of suffering is craving. Since we only and always crave for something that we don't have at the moment, craving inevitably leads to constant dissatisfaction, the existence of which is the first of the Four Noble Truths. So my third lesson was: minimize craving, it tends to take over, removes you from your experience, and fixates your attention on what you lack. When I was able to release wanting the mother or the woman to be near me, I was swept joyously back into the flow of images and insights.

Thinking about the experience of the young child wanting its mother, got me thinking further about my mother, who, now in her eighties, was dying during this time. Thinking about her dying reminded me that I had been thinking about my own dying during past weeks, and this gave me the feeling of a bond of mortality between us. I said to my partner: "I've been thinking a lot about dying lately." When she asked why, I said, "I'm not choosing to think of dying, it just happens and I noticed it. I like thinking about me dying." When she asked me what I liked about it, I said, "it opens up my consciousness."

It was like the teaching about the effects of judging on experience: if I ward off certain thoughts or visions, typically those connected with death, decay, and destruction, they tend to remain lurking at the edges of my consciousness field. On the other hand, if I let in those so-called "negative" thoughts and images, I can accept life and death equally. Death is a normal and natural part of life, not its opposite. The Great Goddess, in whatever form, gives life through birth and takes life through death. During this whole experience, or since then, I had not the slightest feeling of wanting to die, or intention to die, or sense that I was going to die soon. Quite the contrary: in a later part of the journey, I had a vision of a six- or seven-year-old girl, wise with ancient wisdom, who was our daughter. This was a prophetic vision, as it turned out, since our daughter was born the following year. I was content with the knowledge that the time and manner of my dying, or the birthing of my child, was not up to me.

Accepting this, choosing to accept this lack of choice, made me feel a very deep peace, and a growing love—for the wife to be, the daughter to come, the three-fold Goddess, and the self.

In looking back at these experiences with ayahuasca, they represent initiations into ancient lineages and practices of healing and visioning. These healing visions, and the practices connected with them, were given to me, taught to me and shown, by the spirits of plants, of animals, and of the Earth herself. They have left me with an enduring, and growing, sense of profound gratitude and awe at the magnificent and mysterious beauty of Life.

We Are Experiencing the Joyful Phenomenon of .

In this account a twenty-nine-year old Shiatsu therapist and writer reflects back on her adolescent experiences with psychoactive drugs and later experiences with Buddhist insight meditation, comparing them with the profound union with trees and all life experienced under ayahuasca.

My work with entheogens began at the age of fifteen. My older brother and I and our best friend, Will, would take LSD and trek through the woods behind our house in suburban Connecticut until we arrived at the Pit: a bowl-shaped clearing in the trees beside a small pond. Summers were the best times for such adventures because we could stay out all night unshod and lightly dressed, spread out among the stiff, wild grasses of the Pit to gaze out on the stars. When I left for boarding school, I continued my exploration in the company of cannabis, PCP, and opium and began a love affair with MDMA (Ecstasy) that lasted well into my college years. In college in Minnesota, I added mescaline and psilocybin to my growing list of travel companions.

The summer break after my freshman year at college, Will told me of a Buddhist meditation course he had attended in Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts. He exhorted me to try it because "It was totally trippy!

You get to experience your body down to the smallest sub-atomic particle!" Of course, to one whose first love was entheogens, this promise of meditation bore wild appeal. That day I called the Vipassana Meditation Center and reserved my spot for the next ten-day course. What I found, after taking a ten-day vow of silence and meditating for twelve hours a day was not at all trippy. In fact, it was excruciatingly painful to sit still for one- to two-hour meditation periods. My mental agitation was extreme. I felt like a failure as a Buddhist, and though I had promised myself that I would see the ten-day course through to its conclusion, I swore that afterward I would never again meditate. On the last day of my course, in the nadir of my angst, I expressed my feelings to my instructor, Paul (a highly experienced Vipassana teacher and psychiatrist). His calm demeanor invited me to relax in his presence, and he suggested that we meditate together for awhile. I positioned myself in a half-lotus directly in front of him and began the technique of scanning the sensations in my body from head to foot. Moments into the meditation, I became aware of a firm, blue energy that was humming about my head. It arrived at my throat with a popping sensation, like uncorking a bottle of champagne, and I began to weep uncontrollably. I exited the meditation hall where over a hundred people were meditating in silence, and I walked outside into the chilled sunset air of the Berkshires. I was overcome by something that I now recognize as sorrow, a profound, ecstatic connection to the suffering of this planet. It was deep and rich, and powerfully satisfying to a hunger I had not been aware of until that moment. Buddhists call this dukkba, the direct experience of universal suffering that is the first step on the path to enlightenment.

Though I had sworn I would never again meditate, within days of completing that fateful course I embarked on a meditation practice that has filled over a decade with daily hour-long sits and annual ten-day courses. Vipassana, dharma, really, has been the greatest teacher of my twenty-nine-year lifetime. And at twenty, I gave up all drugs, at first because of my desire to explore Vipassana according to its pure guic^-lines that exclude intoxicants, and, eventually, because I felt that I no longer needed entheogens to explore or expand my consciousness. Last winter, after having achieved over a decade of pure dharma practice and six months before my thirtieth birthday, the plant teachers unexpectedly sprouted up again in my path to knowledge.

We arrived at Coba at sunset, both fairly tired from our travels across the Yucatan. My chemist friend, Burt, asked me if I wanted to try the pharmahuasca [a combination of two synthetic drugs that mimics the combination involved in the ayahuasca brew— Ed.] he had cooked up in his lab. He explained that the trip would take about three hours, then we could eat and go to bed. I assented, and we washed down the clear capsule containing pharmahuasca (150 mg harmine + 100 mg DMT freebase) with bottled water and relaxed in the cozy hotel room awaiting her arrival. The trip began, as expected, in under an hour. It was lovely: liquid colors with melting edges, deep ecstatic sighing signaling the loosening of soma, and a sense that the roof had been removed from my psyche availing infinite cool space above me. But it was somewhat disappointing too. It felt like a drug. I felt intoxicated as opposed to enlightened, inebriated instead of connected, and I was bored and requested time checks long before the three hour mark. I suggested that we go outside, feeling that if I were out by the lake and under the stars, then perhaps I would have the experience of communion that I had sought by taking the pharmahuasca.

We walked to the end of a pier that extended into the inky waters of the still lake. We lay down in silence just above the gentle ripples and beneath a glittering minuet of stars. At the three hour point and with nary a hint of communion, I said to my friend, "You know, don't you, that there is a huge difference between taking this drug and ingesting the plant material." It was a statement, supported by a conviction, the origin of which I could not identify; but I was certain. My staunch scientist friend replied with a knowing "Uh huh" that said he had heard all the organophile arguments in favor of natural substances and had no intention of defending his creation. At that moment I spotted a tree near the edge of the lake that was illuminated by a street lamp of the driveway of the hotel. I told him that I wished to go over and see the tree. Our trip having ended and both returned to the baseline, we walked down the pier under the indigo Yucatan sky to visit the tree.

I approached the tree the way that I might approach a lover in a very intimate setting. I laid a gentle hand on her coarse bark and stroked her with affection, allowing the lines of my fingerprints to study each minute knot on her surface, caressing the smooth patches with my fingertips. Her gracious curves invited me to ascend her trunk. Once there, I leaned my weight into her bifurcating limbs and wrapped my arms around her largest branch. My heartbeat reverberated against her sturdy structure. Suddenly I began to weep. It was the ecstatic sorrow, dukkha, that I had experienced a decade earlier in the meditation hall. My chest heaved in tender spasms and tears rolled down my cheeks for an eternity as the suffering of the planet washed over me in its myriad forms. I felt a profound grief for those who lived lifetimes without the experience of true peace in their hearts and minds. As my mourning abated, I noticed that my fingers were lying over a knot on the branch that resembled a vulva. The branch bifurcated just at the edge of the ovular shape, resembling two legs, the whole image being that of a woman, upside-down, legs slightly parted, feet reaching to the sky. I began to weep once more, but this time for a very particular suffering: that of women who had been raped. For the past four years I had worked almost exclusively with survivors of sexual abuse in my private practice of Shiatsu. The tree was telling me that my work was evolving; it was no longer solely about accompanying women into their mourning and sorrow, but additionally about helping them to celebrate and to create. She illustrated this by drawing me out of my sorrow as I laid healing hands on the small tree vulva while directing my attention to another branch. The feeling of this branch was spontaneity and creativity. Joy. The images that paraded across my mind were of poetry, dance, sculpture, and laughter. It wasn't as familiar to me as the experience of dukkha, and I returned to dwell in that more familiar place of rich and heavy grief. Patiently and persistently, the tree redirected my attention to the joy branch, the world of creativity and renewal. Her message was clear: you know the dirge by heart. It's time to tear^> yourself a new song.

Gradually, I immersed myself in the rhythm of joy. I marveled at the tree, awestruck by this act of creation. I studied the intricate coiling patterns of her cortex, felt the rough wrinkles wrapped around smooth structure. I wondered at the sensual ascent of her limbs, stretching upward to embrace infinite space. I brought my lips close enough to brush against the rough patches of her bark and I whispered, "Look at how you've designed yourself. You're absolutely beautiful." Instantly, the lesson of creativity, in the broadest sense, was clear to me. We have all designed ourselves—these marveling eyes, these learning hands, this verdant planet breathing with green lungs—from pure energy. Some irresistible act of creativity willed us all into existence, and we are, from moment to moment, experiencing the joyful phenomenon of recreation. Life, itself, is a masterful work of art and joy tickles the roots of this flowering creature.

My friend and I returned to our hotel room, he to drift off to sleep, and I to travel with the ayahuasca spirit for another eight hours. I experienced the tidal pull of the planet as I synchronized my exhalation and inhalation with Gaia's ebb and flow. I descended to a red-clay place in the center of the earth and below my navel, where Mother Earth herself spoke to me. Lovingly, she stroked worry from my brow and repeated the message of the tree: look how beautiful you've designed yourself to be. See how patient, gentle and kindhearted you've become in your twenty-nine years. She reminded me of how well I've loved, how deeply loyal I've been, and, most importantly, how I never once abandoned myself through the vicissitudes of my life. The message penetrated deeply, and I relaxed into the still acceptance of her unconditional love. For the first time in my life, I felt safe and completely joyful. I brought my lips close enough to brush against the soft cheek of my sleeping friend and I whispered, "Thank you so much for returning my magic to me."

Now the summer after my ayahuasca experience, I continue to interpret and understand her densely-packed eight hour lesson. I believe ayahuasca came into my path to reflect to me all the important work that I have done in the core of my soul—the moment to moment, assiduous attempts toward truth and beauty that no one but I can see. And I am certain that the plant spoke to me with such clarity and love because I have spent the last decade cultivating those very qualities in my meditation practice. Whereas my earlier drug experiences had been trippy in the extreme, now with the discipline and patience that grew out of assiduous, daily meditative work, the spirit of ayahuasca answered my call with the ripened voice of maturity. She came to remind me of my magic—the entheogens—and to encourage me to explore the synergistic relationship between my magic and my meditation on the dharma path and with my healing work.

Stefan C.

^ Having So Recently) Expe \ My Death) It Felt Miraci \ to Be Alive

Stefan C.

A physician in his thirties, with moderate prior experience with psychedelics, recounts his initiation into ayahuasca, where he experienced the true meaning of "medicine" for the first time. Encountering both personal terror and visions of collective horror, he learned to pray again. Taking ayahuasca in the Amazonian rain forest, he marvels at the complexity and preciousness of life.

My first experience of taking the ayahuasca medicine was truly one of the most remarkable I have ever had. It brought me in touch with something very essential, something very deep within myself, allowing me to access a core identity that is normally obscured by ego and attachment. After the experience, I seem to have retained some capacity to enter into a calm and centered state of mind, even as the day-to-day storms continue to rage.

My expectations prior to taking the medicine were a cross between anticipating a profound healing and spiritual rejuvenation, and the fear that I would go stark, raving mad. In certain respects, both of these expectations appear to have been realized.

The hour or so before we began, I recall a time of mounting anxiety and excitement. Where I would decide to sit in the circle took on great importance. Although I questioned what I was getting myself into, there was no consideration of turning back. It was a great relief when we were finally ready to begin.

Walking over to take the medicine, I could still feel the conflict over what I was embarking upon churning away inside of me. It was therefore of some surprise to me that when it came to be my turn to drink, I did so very assertively, without any hesitation. I felt a sense of relief and a surge of confidence upon observing that the anticipated ambivalence was not there.

During the early stages of the experience I felt relaxed, drifting into a reverie of pleasant thoughts and images. My mental content for the most part remained in the here and now, securely anchored to my familiar ego identity. At times my imagery became eroticized, without any of the usual guilt accompaniment. At other times it became humorous, yet tinged with compassion. At one point I reflected that the experience seemed to be a rather easy one, somewhat like a mild MDMA trip. When the guide announced that about three quarters of an hour had elapsed, and that any one who felt they were "not quite there yet" could take a booster, my arm shot up, with a speed that was a bit surprising as I had earlier told myself that I was not going to "overdo" it.

Shortly after lying down from the booster I began to sense that I was now in for it. At first I began to feel some physical discomfort, initially gastrointestinal, followed by a generalized restlessness. I also began to feel some confusion, and a strange sense of detachment. As I became preoccupied with this rapidly increasing dissociation, I began to experience mounting anxiety and fear. The memory of a somewhat frightening mushroom experience a few months before crossed through my mind. I became involved in a desperate struggle to maintain some sense of control.

Lying there, trying to focus on my breathing, I reassured myself that the fear would pass, as do all things. Then I had the sense that my ego, my familiar identity, was beginning to fragment. I experienced a pulsating rush of ego attachments, weighing on me, heavier and heavier. Feeling that the weight of all my attachments was getting too heavy to bear any longer, I decided that this seemed to be a good time to throw up. I sat up, grabbed my bowl, and after a few dry heaves, began to vomit. As I was doing so, the thought crossed my mind that I was throwing up all my ego attachments, all of the things that were weighing me down, holding me back. Although I would not call it a hallucination, I imaged that the purging flow of vomit was transformed into a cascade of shimmering beads. After I was done, I lay back down, feeling considerably relieved. Although I was by no means done with fear and angst, this brought to a close the most terrifying aspect of the experience.

The experience continued to be strong and at times frightening. I remember at one point thinking of what Hermann Hesse had said in Steppenwolf, that the Magic Theatre was "not for everyone." The message I began to perceive was the need to let go of my attachments, to actually relinquish all that I identified with. I found it surprisingly easy to let go of some things, including my investment in being a doctor. Other attachments were harder to give up. One painful struggle in particular I can recall was that of letting go of being a "nice Jewish boy." For some reason this one was very difficult. I also recall, however, the very profound experience of completely letting go of life. I sorrowfully began to conceptualize that all of my attachments, all of my identities, were but transient phenomena and would inevitably end. I thereupon imaged my death in all its horror, including the rotting and decay of my body. I was able to very clearly see my skull crumbling into dust. Oddly, instead of the expected terror, this image left me with a sense of profound awe.

At this point, it is rather difficult to recall the precise sequence of events. Certain memories do stand out, however. I remember being flooded with BPM II imagery [associated with the second, oppressive phase of the birth process in Grof's model—Ed.] including being among masses of terrified concentration-camp prisoners, awaiting my turn for execution. I also imaged piles of bodies of South American peasants dying in ditches, after presumably having been executed by soldiers of a tyrannical government. These images left me struck by the profound suffering that humanity has had to endure. I felt tremendous sadness and grief, as well as rage that all this suffering had been caused by the acts of other men. Surprisingly, I also felt some compassion for the executors, in part because I seemed to be able, in a very disconcerting way, to identify with them as well.

As a rule, I don't pray. Yet, owing to the nature of the session, normal rules did not quite seem to be in effect. So I prayed and prayed, desperately. For myself, for all of us in the circle, for my family, for humanity. I prayed and I prayed. For deliverance from suffering, for healing. I began to cue into the chanting of the music, expressing my prayer deeply and sincerely. As I prayed, I began to feel uplifted, filled with a wonderful sense of calm. After having so recently experienced my death, it felt miraculous to be alive—truly alive—and in touch.

When the guide called for the circle to reform and for the talking stick to be passed, I had no idea what I would do. Yet as I took the stick, I felt a great sense of peace. Although as a rule I never sing (I've known since I was a child that I can't carry a tune), I sang. I sang my prayer to the spirit of the medicine that we all be healed. As I sang, I had the sensation that I had found my true voice. It seemed that this voice of mine was something I had lost or been forced to put aside long, long ago. To be able to access it again filled me with a great joy and peace.

I am still amazed that I had such a positive and profound experience, in spite of the terror and dissolution of self in the earlier stages. I also feel profoundly grateful that I had the opportunity to take the ayahuasca medicine. Its essence for me was its capacity to heal. The revelation that such a medicine does indeed exist is inspiring. I was filled with questions. How can this medicine be applied? Should it even be openly discussed or must it be kept a secret? As our world rushes toward an apocalyptic self-destruction, how could such a medicine as this be used as a vehicle for healthy and compassionate change? That the Amazonian rain forest now appears to be on the verge of extinction strikes me as no coincidence. What can be done?

As a physician, I commonly use and prescribe medication. Until this experience of ayahuasca, I had never experienced what a true medicine might be. It is a terrible shame that we are unable to share the secrets and powers of this medicine with the suffering people who come to us for help. I would like to believe, however, that a strategy could be implemented for the future that could facilitate such intervention. If our society is unable to incorporate such a change, however, it will be a sad world indeed.

I remain in awe of the beauty and power of the experience. I am the same person I was before the session, and yet I've changed. I seem to have taken away from the experience a sense of calm and connectedness that is very precious. I also feel that there is hope for myself and for the world.

Five years after my initial experience, I had the opportunity to take ayahuasca in a wild Amazonian rain forest setting. Far from the closest center of habitation, we made camp in a clearing on a high bluff, overlooking the river. As night fell, we were enveloped by the sounds of the forest, surrounding us on three sides. During our session, I had the experience, conveyed as revelation, that it was no accident or quirk of fate that we, as contemporary and sophisticated representatives of a world culture far removed from native peoples with traditions of plant-hallucinogen use, were encountering ayahuasca at this particular time in history. What I heard, or saw, or somehow grasped on a deep intuitive level, was that the spirits of the Earth were communicating to us through these extraordinary plants. Conveying that the collective Gaia-nature of this planet cannot much longer sustain its health and vitality in the face of escalating environmental destruction perpetrated by a world culture dominated by greed and aggression, the essence of this ayahuasca inspired communication was to wake up before it is too late and mobilize what forces are necessary to prevent the annihilation of nature and the obliteration of the life force it nurtures.

Later that night, while walking through the moonlit forest, we happened upon a tree with a leaf that, for all that could be determined, was in a state of perpetual motion. No breeze was blowing, no other leaf on a tree or adjacent bush was moving. And yet, this particular leaf, without evident cause, continued to gyrate, rotate, and turn continuously, long into the night. Though antithetical to the reductionist mindset, we could only but confirm that nature was speaking to us. Indeed, nature was alive!

Traveling further up river into even more remote regions, we were taken by canoe to a small island. There were six of us, including our local guide. With the sun setting to our backs, we faced the river, listening on a boom box to a tape of ayahuasca chants of the Kulina Indians.

About one hour into the experience, with visions of subtle yet immense beauty beginning to crest over us, the tape came to an abrupt end and clicked off. Silence, as we faced the wide river. The sky, resplendent with the setting sun, turning to dusk. Sitting on the narrow beach, I slowly turned my head to the left. At the end of our group sat my friend J. And yet, beyond, and equidistant from J. as we all were from each other, reposed a seventh and newly arrived presence: a dark and still vulture, also sitting quietly facing the river. As my eyes remained riveted on this aviary apparition, unsure of its corporeal nature, J. turned to me and perceived my attention to be directed somewhere to his left. Slowly he swiveled his head to align with my gaze, and then even more slowly turned his head back to look at me, eyes wide open, mouth slightly agape. Later into the night, long after our session had ended, J. and I spoke about what we had seen. Without such corroboration from my friend, I might have understood my perception to have been a hallucination, somehow conjured up from the murky depths of revealed primordial unconscious. But J. had also seen the bird, sitting to the far left of our row of enraptured sitters, joining us in our communion with the spirits of ayahuasca, the vine of the dead.

Since my first experience with ayahuasca, I have had the opportunity to participate in a fairly large number of ayahuasca sessions in North America, South America, and Europe. Settings have varied, from tightly structured South American syncretic churches, to contemporary North American groups utilizing shamanistic models, to more free-form experiences with small groups of close friends. My personal encounters with ayahuasca have ranged from accessing heights of astounding transcendent bliss, to plummeting into the fragmenting depths of nihilistic despair. I have traveled to other realms and seen visions of extraordinary beauty and complexity. Knowledge and information, contained in the core of the experience, has swept through me. I have been catapulted to a domain of being other than my self, more akin to the True Self. I have stood humbled in the face of its immense otherworldly power and have dissolved in the embrace of life-affirming ecstasy. These encounters hav^ provided a learning experience of extraordinary depth and profundity. Ayahuasca is a teacher that guides, reveals, and makes manifest the ancient wisdom carried in our souls. At its heart is a moral compass that unerringly orients and directs down a path of simplicity and truth. I have learned that with ayahuasca as a teacher, I may not always get what I want, or expect, but I invariably experience what I need. Painful or not, this work with ayahuasca has been a blessing, whose power to heal and enlighten continues to facilitate positive change long after the acute effects of the chemical compounds have departed.

A woman artist in her forties recounts an experience with ayua-huasca in which she was confronted with a vision of the inescapable round of sex and death ("fucking and dying"), in which we humans as well as all other life are involved. As she worked through her initial resistance to this seemingly primitive inescapable force, she attained to a liberating vision of light emerging from the death of form.

I began early on a Saturday morning. After downing about V4 cup of the tea I laid down and listened to music. It was very difficult for me to drink the tea. I felt nauseous immediately. My effort was to keep the tea in my stomach as long as possible. This I did for about twenty minutes. By this time I was hallucinating heavily. My sitter helped me to the bathroom. I was barely able to stand. I went to the bathroom and proceeded to vomit. I felt an incredible sickness throughout my whole body. I was finally able to return to a lying position back in the room and continue to listen to music. The music I was listening to was frorr India. It greatly influenced my hallucinations.

As I lay there, images flooded my mind. I began to see many statues. They looked as if they were made of some sort of sandstone. They were a sandy orange color. They were about six to nine feet tall. Most of the statues had faces and bodies and they were all formed in such a way that they were all connected, one to the next. I turned my gaze to look at them and snakes began to come from all the opened orifices of the statues. The snakes were black. There was a very continuous circular movement of snakes. If I would open my eyes and then close them again the movement of the snakes would stop and then in a couple of seconds their movement would begin again. Soon the forms of the statues became more ornate and very Indian-like in their design. I had the distinct impression that the art style I was seeing was because of the music I was listening to. I felt that the energy of the Indian music was forming the type of art I was seeing.

I had the thought that the reason certain cultural or ethnic art forms appear is because of the planetary energy in the location of the origin of that form, and that the music and the art were intricately connected and reflective of the energy of the planetary location of their origin and the energies that exist there. The statues became separated from each other. They were covered with jewels that sparkled. Especially small red and blue crystals. Still the snakes came, but by this time they were also beginning to be more ornate. They had beautiful diamond-shaped patterns over their skins. They stuck their tongues out, and I was aware of their bodies' exquisite grace and the flirtatiousness of their tongues, inviting me nearer into their energy. Around this time I asked my sitter to stop the music. When this happened the appearance of the objects before me suddenly shifted.

Soon the statues became human and animal figures that were alive but still had a sort of statuesque appearance. I became aware of dense jungle flora around the figures. It was very green and very alive with the movement of life-forms. Soon the figures became involved in a sort of giant sexual orgy. In my mind I heard myself say "It is all about fucking and dying." I watched two humanlike creatures having sex, and I became aware of the rhythm of the sexual act. Suddenly there were hundreds of entities fucking. It seemed that the sexual act had no attachment to any type of passion, but rather had its own will and was based entirely upon animal instinct. It was to be and would exist regardless of anything else. I understood that the sexual act was guaranteeing the continuation of life forms on the planet and also generating a kind of energy that was being given off by the entities involved. These were its purposes and its only purposes. Pleasure or personal relationship was an insignificant side effect. It was not a thought-out sort of reality, but a law of the planet. There was a certain feeling of violence connected to the unrelenting need for the sexual act to take place. I continued to be barraged by fucking life-forms.

I heard the sentence, "We are less than we think we are." I became aware of an inner fear that the spiritual light that we are drawn toward is a sort of ruse only there to make our unimportant position of the planet more bearable, and that somehow our energies are being harvested by a greater power or force that needs the kind of energies we generate not only through the sexual act, but through the energy of violence, and that we are oblivious to all of this.

At this point I became aware of a large skull and chest in the distance. It was rather like a statuesque bust of a person but all of bone, no skin. It had a sort of luminescent, pale blue tone to it. I approached it and stood watching it. Suddenly the top of the skull exploded into a million little shards and light streamed out from it. I was struck by the beauty of the sight. It was a spirit connection. I thought, "Yes, this has really blown my mind and my way of thinking about who I am and who we all are." After this point my hallucinations began to taper off. I again became aware of my present existence.

0 0

Post a comment