When I was first introduced to Ayahuasca, it was like Fight Club.
You didn’t talk about Ayahuasca. You agreed to not write about it in a letter, an email, whisper about it in public places or give any breath to it whatsoever, pretty much, ever… period.
Basically, as far as you knew: Aya did not exist.
Nine years ago, India: We nodded our heads diligently, in reverence, and accepted the “deal” proffered by the traveling shaman. Our lips were sealed; any agreement for the magic elixir!
Hopping through Goa, on holiday break from the rigors of the yoga shala where we had been living for months, a series of synchronistic events:
-A Chilean friend ran into her maestro, at the kooky, celebrated Anjuna market.
(Where else does one run into a shaman?)
-A Brazilian friend insisted, “I have always wanted to do it!”
-I, naïve, had never heard of these exotic ceremonies before, happened to be super clear after a monitored 7-day water fast, and was totally game.
For those of you who don’t know, Ayahuasca is a medicinal plant, squeezed from vines deep in the Amazon, mixed (with another plant or plants) and drank as a liquid in (hopefully, ideally) super sacred ceremonies facilitated by a shaman or maestro or curandero. It also happens to be an incredibly powerful hallucinogenic, and although the US and many other countries classify it as a schedule 1 drug, people on the “medicine path” strongly insist it is not.
I won’t go into the history or other tales of it, but modern medicine is starting to sincerely examine its effects, as by this recent study in Scientific American positing therapeutic potential for depression.
My life is absolutely, without any question,
defined by my 1st experience with Aya.
In that perfect, singular experience, I saw my purpose here on earth, why I chose what I chose: personality, New York City, friendships, being, work, in some inexplicably, endlessly cosmic place before this life.
I felt a “Oneness” for the 1st time, truly, in my cells, in my being, without my being, and in all the years since, my work and meditations have greatly drawn from that experience: it opened a portal within me, and now I can get back there through other practices and meditations.
I abandoned my fear of death, because I absolutely experienced how vast, infinite, we all were: ultimately so small, so insignificant with our silly, trite, egoic problems. It shifted the way I perceived and operated in the world, forever.
That evening was, probably, the single greatest blessing thus far in my life.
So, naturally, after some time, I looked to seek it out again.
For years I couldn’t find anything near New York, and in the last year or two, I’ve been hearing of ceremonies popping up here and there.
In Village yoga studios, Long Island Native American Reservations, upstate private homes: I had even talked to a shaman’s partner to arrange our own group at one point… Ceremonies in the States average in the couple hundred dollar range. Once I was invited to an event for $1000 a night. An elite group of tech and creative notables was participating, whose names you’d recognize. (Where I suppose the price tag is as much for the elitism as the discretion.)
Make no mistake about it, Aya’s become practically trendy, and a quick Google search will spout off a list of celebrities who partake. Albeit quietly (although you can’t get anything past Google,) for obvious reasons.
But I like to go big. I wanted the real thing. I needed to travel to Peru, to the jungle, and sit with Shibipo shamans; the anonymous, incredible healers who have been quietly passing down this tradition and these marvelous healings for thousands of years.
Which is how I found myself, at a shamanic lodge near Pucallpa, recommended to me by the same Chilean who introduced us to the other shaman, years ago.
I had three varying Aya experiences in Peru this recent trip (research people, research) but I’ll chat about the most potent.
The first evening was light (I thought ineffectual.) Yet, the next day, I awoke at 4am to nightmares and then a series of processes and awakenings that showed me what I needed to see.
Without realizing it, I was writing new intentions in my journal. Massive ones. Not like, hey… help me forgive that guy I dated 5 years ago…?
But like: Hey. SHOW ME THE SECRETS OF THE UNIVERSE.
- The healing of my female lineage; being able to let go of generations of needing to lead from the masculine, out of war, strife, habit, patterning/
- Wanting to understand the process of nature + female creation.
- Show me Mother Ayahuasca!
- (And feeling incredibly connected to the heat, silence and nature around me,) a deep, spontaneous desire to know the secrets of the jungle
First rule of Aya: BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR.
The only words I could muster after (and during!) that experience were:
(Pardon my French.) The secrets of the Universe? Um, they can be terrifying, my friends.
There are many Aya retreats that cater to tourists, ranging from onsite medical staff to gyms in the jungle…
I did not choose one of those places.
A dark night. Pitch black. Blacker than black. So black it might as well be nothingness.
I am staying at a “lodge” (more like a beautifully put together series of elaborate huts, nestled unobtrusively in the majesty of the Amazon) with no electricity. It’s exquisite in its simplicity.
(When I was at REI in Soho, buying a new flashlight headlamp, my thoughts were: This is good; I lost my last one and this is the only way I can find ankle booties in the back of my closet... Not sensible ones such as: It will be pitch black in the jungle and you will need this to see things.)
To get here, I had to take two flights from New York, stay overnight, take another flight, take an hour-long “cab” (using that term loosely) ride through marsh the Amazon calls “roads” and we’d probably dub, uninhabitable swampland. Finally a long solo boat ride to God-knows-where, and when the driver motions for a fee, he is so delighted at my 10 soles (about 3 bucks) that I’m pretty sure I overpaid.
At the eco lodge, I am the only person who speaks all English.
There are eight other people there.
Four of us are going to the ceremony tonight.
They are all men.
We load into a jeep that would have been discarded two decades ago in the States, and traverse past a guard at the front gate holding the largest gun I have ever seen in my life.
All of a sudden, my wild solo adventure into the jungle gets REAL. Real fast.
We arrive at the Malloca of the local curanderos. A large circular, domed room, with plenty of mattresses and blankets laid out. You are given a bucket and a roll of toilet paper. (Expected, cool, legit. I’m ok, eager, thus far.)
The curanderos, guides, shamans, are two young brothers, in T-shirt and shorts. They look unremarkable. I have been given zero instructions the entire day other than fasting from food and water after 2pm.
We settle in. I had a very mild experience two nights prior, so one of my new friends, a sweet and eager 30-ish Chilean musician tells the shamans, “It is her last night. Let’s make sure she has a good experience to send her home.”
I am equally both excited and nervous. Clear. (I think: buckled in.)
I am given a large serving of a few ounces. Unlike my previous experience in India, there is very little ceremony or ritual before the offering. It’s almost unspectacularly casual.
There are a few others in the malloca (where did they come from?) We sit, maybe ten or a dozen of us, in total darkness and silence, only the orchestra of the jungle insects steaming through the walls, waiting patiently for the vine to take effect.
It does not take long, and soon I am thrust into a world I have never seen. Worlds I have never seen. It’s bananas. It is 5 different dimensions at once.
The worlds were so vast—it was beyond overwhelming—there was the knowledge that, it this exists, how many other infinite possibilities of such intricate craziness and wonderment are there and if so, how impossible to fathom!
It needs to be said: I have not ever really been a fan of hallucinogenics. My experiences had been a small handful of times nearly 20 years ago at the start of college.
Aya is nothing like that.
There is something so indescribably knowing about it; it is not your mind playing tricks on you, or synapses firing in an askew new patterns; there is this absolute certainty, that this is a world (worlds, dimensions? planes of existence?) that exists in reality. All the reality that we cannot see.
I cannot stress strongly enough that this is the undeniable perception.
I was thrown into a parallel reality: bright, garish, cartoonish—I wanted to see what the heart of the jungle was and I certainly found it. It was too much. I understood and what 5D meant… beyond 5D? I was swirling through the secrets of the Amazon, gigantic, unnerving, darkly and deeply intimidating, all-knowing, and I trembled at how naïve I had been to think I could unlock or handle these secrets.
The 1st lesson I learned was: HUMBLE. HUMBLE. Humble. humble. humble. h u m b l e
I got it. I was not in control. I couldn’t move, get up. I tried to go to the bathroom maybe 4 or 5 times in the middle of it, and could. not. get. up. My body was total mush.
At one point, in the beginning, I was given a vision. It was a very private wish; the reason I had come to Peru, and it was the most extraordinary vision (visitation?) I’ve ever had. For that, I am deeply grateful.
But then it seems, Mother Aya had other plans.
It’s said to have an intention, but “the vine” gives you not what you want, but what you need. I got what I wanted and then for 6 hours she tried to give me what I needed: the spontaneous intentions that I had been journaling.
Aya is also known as “La Purga.” It is common, expected, to purge, several times in each ceremony. She is ridding you of toxins, held-tight unconscious patterning, healing you. I have read countless miraculous accounts of people being forever changed from just one ceremony. Of curing cancer and the like. She is a teacher.
It’s well known that a ceremony is not easy business: that you are going to face your deepest and darkest stuff. Years ago in my 1st experience, when “I” was all cosmic Oneness (um, what happened to that??) people around me were, at times, screaming bloody murder.
A sweet friend and fellow teacher had just gone through 3 ceremonies the previous weekend (in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, of all places) and he wrote me an email telling me how wondrous it would be because of all the spiritual work we have put in over the years.
To partake in an Aya ceremony with true maestros, is the only way, in my opinion. These seemingly ordinary looking people, in the journeying of the vine, transform and transmute into these beings of ultimate widsom, leading you down the paths you exactly need to see.
Their songs, or icaros, spin wild and wondrous worlds of healing and storytelling, leading you deeper and deeper; you are in this existence together: they know what healing you need. How? I have absolutely no idea. This is the glory and Grace of this crazy, cosmic jungle.
I could feel myself needing to purge, and each time the urge arose, it was entirely, crystalline which intention was on the other side of it:
Healing my female lineage, would be on the other side of this purge!… but I couldn’t do it.
Once I could feel myself being brought in to experience childbirth; shown exactly what I had asked for: I want to know what creation is. (At which point, I was like, wait! WTF! I have zero preparation for this. No Lamaze classes, nothin’! STOP!)
Because it wasn’t just the purge. It wasn’t just a need to get that out; in purging, it was purging through various dimensions at once. The darkness would come up, start to swirl and swell around me, and it was so crazy overwhelming, that I sincerely worried I might never ever come back. That I would die. For realsies.
So, I held on. Tight fisted, to my mattress. Constantly throughout the evening, I had to affirm to myself that I was still indeed in my body. I would feel around desperately, distractedly for the soft fluffy boundary underneath me. Yes, I am here. I am ok. I am still in this body. It is going to be ok.
All the while knowing, feeling, seeing my mind/my ego also needing to remain in control of the situation… exactly what I was trying to get rid of. Oh, the paradox.
And I could feel that the answers to the feminine secrets were on the other side of that surrender, but the problem was: I had no grounding. The “leader” of the lodge was away on vacation, and so the gracious hearts in my presence were just volunteers, fellow travellers, not experts.
I couldn’t speak the language or speak to the shamans. I could barely speak to my cohorts, and so, I was in abject terror.
And I learned something, so deeply valuable: I needed a masculine presence to be able to let go. Whether that was the leader, a partner or even a friend to turn to: I needed to feel safe and protected.
In all the recent work I’ve been doing and exploring about the emergence of the feminine, I’ve been receiving a lot of pushback from men in my community: Why does the feminine have to lead? Why can’t we all just evolve to Oneness? I had been accused of being feminist, man hating.
Which is not the point at all.
The yin to the yang is just that: the polarity. The feminine is receptive, magnetizing, where the masculine is the protector.
That night, more than ever, I needed the masculine… not to save me, but to keep me safe and protect me.
Although there is (and should be) masculine and feminine in all of us, the rise of the feminine is not letting the women lead (or God forbid: Lean In,) but the masculine being safe and stalwart and generous and in deep respect, so that the feminine can soar.
We don’t need our men to be more sensitive or emotional. We don’t need them to be women. We need them to rise to be stronger. Stronger, with a deep reverence for the feminine, without ego.
“Woman is life and man is the servant of life.
The male’s job is to protect the women.”
-Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth
This is what was missing for me that night. I needed the masculine presence to feel safe enough to surrender. Which of course only brought questions, investigations of how I might need that in my own life.
So, back to the mat. The terrified, alone, deep in the jungle, crazy brain on Ayahuasca, mat.
I gripped through the night. Literally, figuratively, emotionally, spiritually, in every which way, I tried to not get lost down a black hole of no return.
And yet… I also saw how powerful I could be. How much I had already learned on this dark, windy path, whether you call that spirituality, or just plain life.
(But scarier, trust me…) I would summon in my own higher self, begging that if I had any spirits, they would come to my aid, and suddenly it was all:
Was that just my American conditioning? My mind totally Disney-fy-ing my experience in contrast to the wild extremes of the jungle? Whatever it was, I would ask and suddenly it was bright fireworks of clean, white energy everywhere, interspersed with heart and love and unicorns and things that looked like a 1st grader would sticker to her lunchbox.
(It’s only weeks later as I was describing it to a friend over proseco in Soho that I was like: OMG. It’s like I was totally “Elsa” in Frozen.)
It was empowering. It was like the Wizard of Oz Dorothy moment:
Of course. And yet, so much to have seen and learned…
So, I didn’t sleep a wink that night. (See, aforementioned terror.)
And strangely enough, without a moment’s shuteye, the next day I had to travel and was bright eyed and bushy-tailed. It was like the second it ended, I wanted back “in.” Not as in, “addict” but with the knowing that it was temporary and I could have the courage to face things from a new perspective.
Now a couple weeks later, it continues to unfold, offering hodge podge wisdom. Energy in my body feels different. Beyond my body it feels different.
Blazes of insights flash in here and there, during random, mundane Manhattan moments of day-to-day life. I’ve been told these journeys can continue to serve and unfold for months, even years on end.
In all this adventurous travel, I’m not just looking for a wild joy ride; I’m looking for something that will have practical applications in my and my peeps own lives. The risk is the investment for a life experience that is brighter, clearer, and more generous down the line.
Would I consider myself on the “medicine path” like many whose sole spiritual practices are these ceremonies? No.
But can I see how a handful, every couple of years or so, can blaze open a new perspective on life that can serve us for a lifetime? Yes. Hells yes. And for that reason, if handled with utmost integrity, respect and grace, I’d say that our darkest experiences can be our most illuminating.
Thank you, Mother Ayahuasca.