In the last couple weeks since my return from the Peruvian Amazon, people have asked me with understandable curiosity what drinking ayahuasca was like, and it has been very difficult for me to explain. The simple answer is, there is no simple answer. My experience was complicated and obtuse and it left me with more questions than answers… which I suspect was more or less the point.
I partook in three ceremonies, where under the guidance of a shaman we drank ‘the vine of the soul’ and let whatever was going to unfold, unfold… and the experiences were vastly different for all of us. The word ‘ceremony’ is used because there is utmost reverence given to this ancient ritual of connecting to what the indigenous people call ‘The Great Mother’ and that benevolent presence was one of the few tangible pieces of a mostly intangible experience.
Two and a half weeks later there is still a lot I don’t understand. What I do know, is that like most things which fall into the spiritual or personal-evolution realm, ayahuasca has two primary functions. The most obvious is the mirror it holds up, reflecting back the shadows of one’s self we so desperately try to keep contained to their darkened corners. The other more subtle effect, is the soft highlighting of your most honest path, which means following the truth in your heart and indulging all your inspirations, even if (or especially if) it’s not in alignment with the life you’re currently living. Whether or not that path is obvious or unclear, and whether or not you choose to walk it, the guidance is waiting. In reflecting back on my own experience as well as listening to the experiences of others, it becomes clear what all the moments of tears, laughter, agony, confusion, bewilderment, clarity, exhaustion and fear are: an embodied, sensate foundation from which you must keep building.
While I cannot speak for others, for me this trip was wholly about transformation… walking into the fire. The same fire that turns water into vapor and wood into ash. It was about standing in the middle of transformation with eyes wide open and glimpsing inside one’s own cocoon at that messy impossibility that somehow, one day becomes a graceful, earthy but ethereal sort of elegance. That I do not understand the exact process is frustrating at worst and magical at best.
Outside of the (excessive) journaling I did on the trip, in sitting down and trying to write about my experience in a cohesive and engaging fashion, I keep falling short. I could recount the deeply stored emotional releases and ensuing epiphanies, I could try to paint the hallucinogenic pictures while musing both their obvious and hidden meanings, and I could try (and fail) to fully articulate the profound physical experience I endured, but it all seems incredibly trite… like recounting a dream, which in reality, is only interesting and engaging and meaningful to the dreamer.
And so what I’m left with is the thing that always rises to the surface for me but that I rarely share. A non-narrative melding of words that have deep meaning for me because I lived them, but that are perhaps too ambiguous and obscure to hold anyone else’s attention. Alas, in sharing anyway, I hope to tug on that thread of human experience that connects us all regardless of the unique way in which it’s woven into each of our lives, and I hope that for some, there may be faint glimmers of resonation. But mostly, I write as a rest stop along my journey… a place to coalesce knowledge and experience, to help me gain bits of clarity before moving onward towards making sense of a mostly non-sensical experience that is clearly reflective of the highly non-sensical place I currently reside in my life.
You see, it is at this juncture that my ever-striving intellect becomes entirely ill-equipped for such esoteric understandings and I must again and again continue moving the process downward into the brilliantly illogical, energetic intelligence housed by my flesh and blood. The lifetime I have spent using my body as a means of expression and understanding while forcing my brain into the passenger seat – first through dance, then more notably through yoga and deeper still through meditation – have taught me that the knowledge contained not within the thinking but within the feeling, is boundless and fruitful beyond belief. The inspiring Alan Watts reflects this sentiment best:
“To come to your senses you have to go out of your mind.”
And through the senses, some things can still only be experienced by stepping directly into the flames…
Today was the day I finally invited her in, her presence setting a fire both terrifyingly soft and enormously sublime. Searing white heat begins to rise from my shadowy crevices of bone, emanating from a space I presumed barren and cold. This landscape, dark and desolate, I have perpetually and mindlessly steered around, for there nothing beautiful ever grew.
She comes and goes while never leaving my side, dropping vivid shapes and textured sounds like breadcrumbs along the way. Somewhere in the recesses of my mind I wonder if I am scared of these fantastically dark creations, but fear never quite manifests. The incomprehensible jungle of my creation is rich and warm, where terror lurks but cannot creep in, and benevolence bubbles up from the murkiest depths. Calm whispers throughout the shadowy realm, but I cannot get comfortable here. She is purposefully fanning the flames.
Fine filaments now rise like smoke, wafting through me, clouding my body with a sickening thickness, undulating out of control, pulling at me and untethering my composition. This heat, unbearable, seems a gifted manifestation of some otherworldly fire… some form of molten transformation that I am simply too close to see. I cannot name either the layers or where they uproot themselves from, but they dislodge one after another amidst the flames, whipping, churning, rippling as they abandon my body, releasing into the ether.
This internal terra endlessly fragments and breaks, again and again while this cage of flesh ceaselessly and unapologetically rattles in the fervor. My strength has been stripped but supplemented too, as I lose control but gain emancipation. I am breaking apart, deep inside, and in that powerful vortex, something gives way. Darkness is shattered by light in the form of a million blazing suns convulsing through me in an endless stream. My sight is blinded by surrender.
Conscious choice has been taken away and I am in her hands, in her control, in her cradle, letting her integrate the magnitude of things I cannot yet know into my ever-present but cautiously-cloaked internal gateway that connects me to eternity. It is an alchemy I do not understand but do not resist. The black and white of what I know has given way to a million shades of in between, and this thing coursing through me, is both of me and not of me, internal and external, familiar and foreign. There is no duality in this connection, for she has entangled her energy with mine and where she leads, I follow, incubated by her unfathomable heat.
Slowly, eventually, the sun must rise. With a begging body and a resistant soul, I gradually reinhabit the corporeality I know. Like the receding tide, I watch these powerfully pure energetic waves slowly dissipate back under some semblance of control. It is here that I understand my incomprehension is irrelevant, that my mind can only hope to catch up to the wisdom encrypted and embedded in my bones, and I relinquish myself to a process I may never fully understand but believe in nonetheless. And to this task, to this truth, her presence continues to light the darkness while she lovingly holds my hand and leads me again, straight into the fire.