Bodies moaned, contorted, and wrestled themselves, resisting or in denial of the ayahuasca that was penetrating their minds. The ceremony was well underway, and the Peruvian shaman conducting the session was virtually screaming a traditional icaro song. I twisted and turned, squeezing my fingers in chaotic grips, breathing heavily, twitching, afraid.
With precisely nowhere to run or hide, I was beginning to realize that I had to welcome this uncomfortable psychic force into my body and senses. I had to stop denying it. I assumed this acceptance would invoke torturous vomiting, or worse, that it could make me permanently insane.
This is a story of when I faced the abyss and received generous insights into the theatre of distress and well-being. There are many ways this story could be told. I’ve chosen to offer as much detail about the visionary experience as possible, hoping that it offers a clearer sense of the strange terrain I journeyed.
I was fully surrounded. The more awful I felt, the more intensely they gawked at me.
The intense music was shaping the pulsating patterns and visions that surrounded me. When I began to dismiss the inner guards of my consciousness, the visions and patterns became stronger. Black, dark orange, and dark red outlines, filled with scary and grotesque animated faces that reminded me of Polynesian wood carvings, all moving with the same daunting expression, slotted neatly in an encompassing three-dimensional grid system, so delicate in design. I was fully surrounded. The more awful I felt, the more intensely they gawked at me. The menacing faces were intimately connected to my feelings.
There was only one thing I didn’t want to do and that was to fully dismiss the guards and surrender myself. I did everything I could to resist letting go. It seemed clear that if I surrendered, the psychic storm might forever consume me in its suffering and madness. Although I had drunk ayahuasca about 25 times previously, this time I had entered a whole new level of experience.
Feelings of fear increased to terror. The intensity then peaked with a sense of absolute renunciation. I uncontrollably vomited and roared in an emotional explosion into the plastic bucket next to my mattress. I joined the guttural chorus of other members of the ceremony. Vomiting from what felt like the bottom of the universe, my body took command of the situation. My stomach and neck muscles flexed to an intense degree to remove what felt like an ancient toxic filthiness. I was coughing, spitting, splattering, and sweating.
Exhausted, I then lay down. Within literally a few seconds the visions waned and then completely disappeared. I went from being the victim of a multidimensional visionary attack to a completely sober human back on earth. No patterns. No visions. No scary faces. Instead, a sense of profound peace expanded my consciousness.
The feeling was far beyond any sense of relief I had ever experienced. I had landed in a state of true grace.
Despite the roaring music and sounds of distress from other members of the ceremony, I found myself with an incredibly calm perception, reminiscent of a relaxed ocean horizon with no wind. The feeling was far beyond any sense of relief I had ever experienced. I had landed in a state of true grace.
For the rest of the ceremony, I felt incredibly present, simpler and freer in my thoughts and perception, as if time had slowed down and more of the substance of life welcomed in. A sense of gratitude, love, and clarity filled my thoughts. Although I wasn’t thinking very much, which was a lovely change from the usual noise of my mind, I would have the occasional profound epiphany. In retrospect, the ideas seemed basic or trite, but at the time they struck me with a clarity and deep significance that is usually absent.
“A balanced kindness towards others and myself is the key”, I thought to myself.
Reflecting on life, I had the sense that I need to not care about certain things while really caring about other things. I needed to hone virtue and conviction and heightened love for the things that are in my life and for the journey I am on.
I walked outside and sat on the grass. There was no wind. The moon illuminated the countryside. I felt the power of optimism and mystery working in tandem. I felt the freedom to love and the freedom to wonder, including the freedom to just be. It is hard to put into words, and it risks sounding like a bunch of shallow rhetoric; however, the experiences were so real and the world so present and true.
Ayahuasca seems to use the body as a medium to flush out deep dimensions of mental sickness.
“How is this possible”, I thought to myself. I had the sense that ayahuasca was working with the body’s natural means of healing itself, through expelling toxins, sweating, vomiting, crying, and stretching muscles. Mental and emotional distress were being released, purified, healed. Ayahuasca seems to use the body as a medium to flush out deep dimensions of mental sickness; to target the causal unconscious layers that reside in the body yet permeate thoughts, actions, and perceptions.
When in the strongest part of the ceremony I had the undeniable embodied sense—as if the visual landscapes of my body, both internal and surface, were seen, smelt, felt, and understood in one collaborative act—that health and well-being are organized at ultra-deep unconscious levels that permeate all the way up to biological formations and ordinary perception.
The core appeared as a kind of terminal of energy exchange that mediated my connections with persons and things. I got the sense that health and well-being is built on a foundation of conviction—conviction in love, and conviction in knowing madness and sickness in the world without allowing it to cripple me through fearing it.
The hardest thing for me to convey is that this sense of conviction was definitely not simply a concept. It was an embodied presence that was condensed most in the chest and the stomach. Even when the ayahuasca had largely worn off I was much more in tune with this core sense of conviction. This embodied groove is the elder of perception, and it needs to be respected dearly by thought or le cogito.
This was the central message of my journey that night. It whispers to me and appears in my embodied perception from time to time. I am a different person now. As I wrote in my diary while sitting on the grass, shortly after purging:
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