Nowadays, I say things like breathwork can help too.
This time, I was better prepared over the long term. After about a year of not drinking or smoking, I was also meditating regularly and practicing yoga. By this point, I was even a certified yoga instructor. My body was more in tune with itself and the direction I wanted to go in my life. As such, there was less of a need for the super strong Columbian blend. This time, I was provided with the 120-grit – a refined brew that was far more gentle in its delivery, yet no less effective in reaffirming the things that needed to be reaffirmed to me in the moment.
THE CEREMONY BEGINS LONG BEFORE ANY MEDICINE IS TAKEN
I realized that smoking weed recreationally is like taking medicine you don’t need. It took me a while after I quit to kick the urges, but once they were clear, my brain began to rewire itself back to a higher order of wellness. Using a crutch when your legs are fine slows you down, and this can only be seen once the crutch is released. While taking drugs can be fun, helpful, and enlightening when done at the right moment under the right conditions, smoking marijuana or any other drug as a normal practice created downfalls that could only be witnessed once the practice of going without was firmly established. As my mind was free to go elsewhere without the crutch, another level of mindfulness began to open. The levels of cognition and aspiration began to rise. Though balance must be sought to not turn into an ‘always striving, never arriving’ situation of ambition, once the crutch was removed, I could see that the section of infinite levels I could perceive seemed to shift up a bit to a higher set of possibilities. Just as a mind can be locked by never experiencing certain experiences, when these experiences become the norm, the mind can lock up once again in a new set of mundane conditions.
I also realized that time is not a limiter. Set a strong intention, and the time will present itself. I came to realize that I used to do an hour of exercise and an hour of playing my musical instruments every day, and these two hours seemed to morph into almost daily television time, so I set the intention to realign those two hours back to the other, more productive endeavors.
All of these aforementioned insights happened on the three days leading up to my retreat – before I even took any drugs!
IS EVERYBODY IN?
The shaman that ran my first experience with ayahuasca did not speak English. In fact, he barely spoke Spanish. He was from the jungles of the Amazon, where they spoke their own language. It might have been this language barrier that blocked him from explaining any ground rules about the ceremony, and his very informal process consisted of pretty much an ‘anything goes’ attitude. Beyond offering up the brew just after dusk and then again just after midnight, along with the rule that we were to always stay in the circle except to briefly use the bathroom, there weren’t many rules beyond that. Everyone in the circle was part of the ceremony, and one man’s moaning, thrashing, and noise making was meant to be part of everyone else’s experience. With no ground rules, things were free to progress organically, and ma ayahuasca would be free to guide the ceremony in any way she saw fit, without any constraints.
This time, things were more refined. First off, my shaman actually spoke English, which opened a whole new support structure in terms of a practitioner for someone like me that only spoke a single language. Secondly, he was much more organized, setting up ground rules up front. There was to be silence during the entire event. Nobody was to talk or interact with the others until they were told they could do so. The only singing and noisemaking was to do be done by the shaman. Even animated movements or heavy breathing that could draw attention to oneself were frowned upon and would be quashed if done in excess. In the end, the shaman would decide what was too much, but with such ground rules in place, it opened up the internal space much more to keep us looking within instead of being distracted by others to look outside ourselves as psychic voyeurs at the experience of others. As usual, just by speaking this intention, it seemed to be much more easily manifested, and I never had the urge to do the kinds of thrashing, balling, and moving around as I did during my first ceremony just 3 years earlier. Also, for the first ¾ of the night, there would be no candlelight in the circle. Only the moon would provide the light needed to make it to the bathroom or to the shaman’s station as needed.
THE SPIRIT OF THE EAST
“Are you feeling it?” he asked me.
“Oh yeah,” I replied.
I sat back down in my seat and took my second dose of the night. Then, mother ayahuasca began to unveil her wisdom to me. At first, I was reminded of the lesson I had learned during my first journey – that we are all important parts of a much larger system, pieces of the universe’s puzzle that would not be complete without us. We all have value, and our unique gifts are needed in this time and place, and we should never forget this in times of struggle and hardship.
THE SPIRIT OF THE SOUTH
I began to see my conditioning. I knew that we as humans didn’t exactly “need” drugs like ayahuasca, but when we expose ourselves to the other drugs in our food and media, we become extremely conditioned to the point where we may indeed need another drug to quickly break the conditioning. Otherwise, we might spend a lot of time going nowhere as the forces that constantly surround us in the modern western world bombard us. Mother ayahuasca provided an opportunity for rapid breakage of the blocked energy to provide new insights and new ways of seeing things that could then be integrated into daily life.
Soon, it was my time for a one-on-one healing from the shaman. I wobbled up to him and sat down on the pillow in front of him. He asked me for my intention.
“I want to let go of sarcasm, cynicism, and judgment by comparison,” I said.
“Ok. Anything else?” he replied.
“I also want to release any other similar energies that no longer serve my life mission and purpose, which have been clinging on to me… and whatever else you feel is related to that,” I said.
“Ok,” replied he shaman.
As I sat there, he began to chant. The man grabbed several different shakers and shook them all around me as he evoked and extracted those things, which no longer served me. Hunching and slouching forward (as I often did), he handed me a pillow to put into my stomach so it could extract what unwanted energy was hanging out there. I could feel the energy being sucked into the pillow as the shaman continued to chant, blow tobacco on me, and touch my back, neck, shoulders, and head.
Eventually, he took the pillow away and shook it out to cleanse it and remove the entity that was clinging to it that had previously been nestled in my stomach. I could feel a tender wound there where it had previously found a comfortable hideout to suck my lifeforce.
As the energy form that no longer served me left the pillow, I witnessed the working spirits taking it away, and I thought of where it might go. On my previous journey in Costa Rica, I imagined such negative energy being purged into the ocean, a vast expansive sink that could easily accommodate such energy and disperse it. This time, there was no ocean nearby, so I imagined it going into the nearby hills and mountains. Then, I realized that I didn’t need to worry about where it was going after all. I needed only allow the spirits whose job it was to take it away to do what they knew how to do. There was no need for me to set any sort of intention about specifics, and doing so would only create more work for the universe. It was a reminder that, when setting intentions, we should only focus on the specifics of what we really want, not necessarily how it plays out. In this case, I wanted the parasitic energy gone away from me never to return. Where that was to be, it didn’t really matter to me.
After the experience, the shaman told me what he witnessed.
“I saw a vision of the owl. You should nurture your relationship with the spirit of the owl as your ally, if you don’t already. Tell it to… hunt! Tell it to hunt down those little pieces of sarcasm and cynicism that rear their ugly head, and those divisions of your mind that lead to judgment by comparison. Tell the owl to be ruthless in its hunting, and do to so relentlessly, with out mercy…” then he smiled, “but with love,” he said.
I smiled and a tear came to my eye. The owl would become my great ally to hunt out those unwanted negative energies and forces that would try to find their home around me. It was a very effective hunter, and I realized that by making the spirit of the owl my ally and giving it work to do that I was helping it to achieve its universal purpose. In the physical realm, the owl is a stealth hunter that eats mice and other rodents. However, with no need for physical nourishment in the spirit world, an owl’s hunting skills can become rusty. Like me, the spirit of the owl wants to work and contribute its skills to the universe’s well-oiled machine with its essence and skills given to it. By giving it a purpose to hunt out these little pests of sarcasm, cynicism, and judgment, I am not exploiting the spirit of the owl, but to the contrary, I am doing it a service by allowing it to serve me for the highest good of both of us.
THE SPIRIT OF THE WEST
For that second ceremony of the weekend, I told the shaman that I could probably handle a bit more medicine. After an introduction to it on the first night, I realized that it was much less coarse than what I had taken during my first set of ceremonies with the Columbian shaman. I realized how different the ceremonies were between the two shamans as the weekend progressed, but also that I was ready to go to the next level.
Every shaman is different, as is his brew. When going into a ceremony, it is essential that we set intentions, but not set expectations. There are so many variations to the medicine that there is plenty of variability to realize that all shamans each have their own twist. From the differences in how they run their ceremonial system to the ingredients in the brew, an experience with one shaman doesn’t really give anyone enough information to understand how any other ayahuasca experience would work for us. Beyond the fact that many shamans might add additional ingredients into the brew, such as the coca leaf, tobacco, and other adjuncts, even ayahuasca itself has many variations. There is the red vine, the yellow vine, the purple vine, and even the black! Rest assured though, the brew you take on a given night is the one that was meant for you in that moment to teach those lessons that needed to be taught.
On the second night, the shaman agreed that I could handle more, so he gave me a cup full of brew that took me three gulps to get down. It was not easy, but his brew was so refined (and/or I was refined enough) that I didn’t so much as feel nauseous the entire weekend, let alone throw up or get the shits. On some level, I was a bit disappointed in this, but on another level, it let me explore these other areas of refinement that I could not otherwise explore had I had to get up every few minutes to barf or shit while trying to manage the nausea in my stomach.
When the second round was offered up on the second night, I was pretty much good to go without a second dose, but I was instructed to ask the shaman for a ‘ceremonial amount’ of the drink to cap off my experience. To me, this meant a small, almost negligible amount – more of a tasting than anything else. Nevertheless, the man was instructed by spirit to pour me another huge round.
“Wow, that’s a lot!” I gasped.
I returned to my seat, and like the previous three doses, I expressed my gratitude to the drink that sat before me in my hands. I inhaled her fragrance, and I asked her to integrate with me to do what she knew to do. I expressed my intention, and I told her that I had the utmost respect for her. I realized that I might have been getting into more than I bargained for with such a big dose, but I knew it was meant to be so, and I knew that she would watch over me as she administered herself to every cell of my body. I gulped it down, and shit started getting real.
The symphony of gagging and moaning began to swirl around the room. I could feel an occasional negative energy come by me, but the setup of the room was conducive to allowing this energy to pass. We were seated in a circle around the alter, and I noticed that every time the shaman would walk to and from his seat, he’d do so in a clockwise fashion around the alter. Every time things like tobacco were administered to the participants, the direction was always done in a clockwise fashion. This created a vortex like a tornado that swirled into the eye of the altar. So, any time a negative energy came by me, I could easily keep pushing it down the line until it was flushed away into the altar.
At this point in the evening, the nausea ghouls came out to play and extract the vomit from some of the other participants. In a space between the gagging and coughing, the shaman spoke up almost sardonically, “Anyone else want some more? This is last call!” Clearly, we were all set. The ceremony continued, and the ghouls were flushed into the vortex.
When I was called up for my second healing, I expressed my intentions to the shaman, “I am a valuable resource to the universe. My time, my work, my thoughts are the things that I have to offer. I want to make sure that the programs running on me, which use these resources are those that I create, and not those that are created by external forces. Does that make sense?”
The shaman replied, “Yes, you want to make sure that you are the one deciding what you do, and not some external things… like, society, or culture, or…”
“Yes,” I replied. “It’s not directly about those external things. It’s simply about me having control over my domain. Without mentioning any specifics of those external things that might attempt to install their program on me to execute, I want to make sure that any such programs I am running are approved by me so that I am in control,” I said. “Also, I also want to be able to work though blockages and stuck energy when these things occur.”
“Ok,” said the shaman.
After another round of shaking, tobacco smudging, singing, and extraction, I was given some messages about myself. I was told that my essence colors are bright red and blue, and that lavender creates a colorful space for my rest and relaxation. The shaman was told by spirit that my heart and chest have a fire that burns bright and can be explosive with passion! I began to tear up. The shaman said that this fire is fanned by little entities that stoke it and make it burn brightly, and I should take some moments to acknowledge and thank these little workers that fan the flame for me, such as the little dancing witches that laugh and dance around the fire as they stoke the blaze.
I was told to allow my fire to grow and burn brighter. I was to allow it to grow large and bright into a raging inferno so that it could shine light on all things – including all those external things that try to make their impact on me. The fire would grow so bright that nothing could stop the inferno, and nothing could extinguish it. The fire would fan out through all creation. I must know that I am affecting others with my fire, and I am inspiring others. To work from my heart center, all I needed to do was remind myself of this fire and continue to nurture it so that it may spread through all of creation and have a ripple effect that makes a difference in the universe. Finally, to work through blockages, I need only remember and invoke this bonfire in my chest. It would easily be powerful enough to burn through any of these stuck energies when called upon.
Through these two healing sessions, I was reminded about all of the spirit behind everything! I realized that by acknowledging them and giving them the gratitude they deserve for doing their work that I was not only bringing them joy, but I was also giving them more strength to do their work. I realized also that even the smallest physical objects have spirit behind them. We create reality with our thoughts and words, so it is important to always use these things as tools for the greatest good. When we say disparaging things, even about inanimate objects, these things can stick, so we must use discernment as to what we put out there and create for the universe. We must treat all objects, animate and inanimate, with respect and honor. Their desire is to be used in creation, and we should empower them to do so instead of disempower them, so that they may help us and help the universe.
I understood that reality was constructed by our perception, and it did not actually exist without it. We are able to change the reality just by having certain assumptions accepted as true, regardless if they could be quantifiably accepted as true through the physical. Many truths are true or not only through our belief. Of course, the collective perception has a force to constrain that reality; however, we can choose to accept or reject these assumed truths and create our own reality. That said, nothing is 100%. We need not be bogged down in trying to find certainty, and it can be efficient and effective for us to simply go with the probabilities through the statistics of events. I realized I was free to create my own paradigms instead of simply accepting those presented to me by others.
Through all of the musing, I had some personal moments. I took the time to thank each of my arms and hands and tune into them independently. When was the last time you expressed gratitude to your right arm and hand? How about the left? Try it, you can learn something. I actually had long conversations with both arms. I decided to start using my left arm and hand more so that I could look at things in a new way instead of just sticking with the comforts of my dominant hand.
When the spirit of the West was invoked on the second night, I was given my opportunity to diatribe. I spoke to my experience and further elaborated on how intention and awareness can be used to create anything.
“Think of your physical existence as a machine,” I said. “A machine does not think for itself; it runs a program. Every machine has hardware resources, and every machine runs a program. Your time, your energy, your work, your brain power, and your goods are the hardware resources that the machine uses to run the program written for it.
“We can use our awareness and intention to ensure that this machine runs only those programs which we allow. If we don’t have awareness, then the collective unconscious and opportunists will install their own program to run on your machine.
“All that we put in our body contributes to the end result of the program’s output. All that we consume – food, drink, drugs, and information – are the inputs. We must use our awareness to help us find the discernment to decide what inputs come into our body to dictate the program that we run.
“By taking control of the machine and installing our own programs with our awareness, we can then transform our inputs into the manifestation our own program, which is our intentions, as opposed to the intentions installed into our machine by other forces,” I said.
THE SPIRIT OF THE NORTH
In the end, I realized that it’s ok to force myself to take a break. Enforced breaks can lead to breakthroughs. Spirit also told me to “Do more yoga.” I also decided to send more one-on-one messages to people and reach out to them – tell them that I’m thinking of them. Touch people. And, I made a realization that I needed to tell my dad that he was loved, and that he deserved love.
In the end, my second go-round with ayahuasca further exposed more of the layers that needed to be exposed. It also reaffirmed truths I already held to be self-evident, but which are often better assimilated when experienced rather than only said.