So I’ve just returned from the retreat, somewhat exhausted. I’m sleep deprived and feeling the lack of calories after four days of veggie bowls, plain oatmeal, and occasionally losing my lunch to vomiting or diarrhea.
I really need to process all that’s happened because I’m still a bit raw and still interpreting exactly what happened. And how things unfold over time may surprise me as well.
I came with the express desire of understanding why my anxiety is so strong and how to overcome it – I’ve been dealing with social anxiety for over a decade and it’s been ruining my life. I’d hoped for a healing miracle if anything or at least a vision of “this is the root cause.” I wasn’t shown that, per se, but I was shown much more than I ever expected. If you’ve never taken it before, Ayahuasca really is nothing at all what you think it is.
I’m glad I had an experienced shaman with 12 years of experience in the Shipibo tradition. He embodied everything I hoped for: spiritual yet non-dogmatic, intelligent, learned, and a man engaged in the world and life. Energetically magnetic and a listener and empath. And a voice that I couldn’t get enough of listening to.
The space he and his two assistants created was powerful; it’s clear to me just how much less of an impact there would be if I’d simply bought a psychedelic and did it on my lonesome. The sacredness, darkness, chanting, group sharing, intention setting, and collective energy and experience all helped make my first experience truly memorable. Possibly life-altering.
I don’t think I’ve ever understood anything as less as I do that ceremony. I’m trying to decide if I’ve had my first “supernatural” experience or not. So much came up – I won’t share all of it just yet, but I’ll share the three major highlights. My background is in Vipassana, and I think that influenced some of what I saw.
We’d be given a cup of the brew at the start of each ceremony. While it wasn’t as disgusting as some posts I’ve read said it was, I found it rather nauseating, like watery date paste beginning to go bad. Sometimes just thinking about the taste made my stomach start to churn. A thick brown liquid, this medicine. I never had more than 2 cups (shot-glass sized), though I’m proud to say, I had a second helping every day but one. 2, then 1.5, then 1, then 1.75 cups.
So, the experiences I had? Again, I’ll only share a few, as I only just got back, and don’t want to write out everything that happened. Plus, I want to take some time to interpret and get a better idea of it all.
During one chant on the second night, as my mind started to set aside interpretation and flow with alert presence, the shaman started singing about “Madre,” and his voice took on a feminine tone. A vision of myself as a baby slowly formed. I felt my chubby hands and feet as they tried to grasp things, felt the blanket under my body, and started crawling across my crib. The chanting continued and I realized it was really my mother singing to me. I crawled towards her and she scooped me up in her arms and started rocking and singing to me. I started drinking her milk, tangling my fingers in her hair, feeling her warmth, her smile, her smell, and I was delighted. And then she started to fade away, and I was reminded that she died just a few years ago. And all of this grief welled up and I started sobbing, not terribly loudly, as I was still mindful of where I was, but it just started pouring out…I thought “how could that happen? I needed you. Why did you leave? Now I’m all alone and I’m scared….” I cried for some time, half in my baby body and half in my adult one…And then laid there, tired and surprised I was still carrying so much grief inside.
That same night, I had a second vision. I saw myself as a primitive human, or an ape, on the savannah. It was night, with a full moon in a clear sky overhead. I was lying in a group with other apes, their furry backs to me, breathing slowly as they slept. I was lying there, playing with the grass in my fingers, and I felt a deep connection to them, the dirt, rocks, and the earth. I started hooting contentedly (actually made the noise quietly to myself as it felt right) and played with the vision-grass in my fingers. And I had a sense of “this is what Life’s all about. Earth. Sky. Nature. Companions. We’re just a bunch of animals here for a short stay; there isn’t anything more to it than that.”
A third one: I stopped having visions on the last 2 nights and this happened both times. In these, I was “possessed” in various ways. The chants caused my body to thrash, stretch, dance, writhe, grit my teeth, feel emotional outbursts, and even forced my mouth open to give gigantic yawns that resulted in tears and a sense of exhaustion. Sometimes, I felt like the chants were “gripping” something in my belly like a hot rock that would force its way down through my bowels and need “expulsion.” It’s such a bizarre experience, listening to the chants and feeling your body do stuff without your mind being engaged. As if you’re being played like a musical instrument. I could “override” it at any time but did my best to suspend analysis and let my body do its thing. I told myself to trust, that my body is way smarter than me, and that it knows what its doing.
Occasionally, though, my mind would do something really strange, and the shaman confirmed my interpretation. I seemed to fully dis-identify with thinking. My body would fall away, still twitching, and I felt as if I was inhabiting the space instead. Body was in the space of “I,” or “presence,” rather than me being in the body. Thinking was there, but the quality was completely different. I saw thoughts like a ping-pong ball bouncing into an empty room. I’d ask “who is thinking this thought?” But not only was that a thought, but there was also no thinker. I was a perfect watcher, a void where thoughts bounced in and out, seemingly from space itself. Musing over it today on the way back, it seems to me normal consciousness is more of a morass. The space is less like air and more like syrup, as thoughts get automatically latched onto through habit. It’s been interesting just sitting still, remembering that thoughts can flow through my mind like air, and feeling the qualitative difference. So that might be my greatest takeaway of all from this.
There were also moments of bliss, more “monkey visions,” and other weirdness. And I only vomited once. “What the fuck just happened?” is all I have to say.
Well, actually, I have quite a bit more to say. But I’m really tired and need to get some rest. I’ll consult my notebook later on…