I've kept these stories private, but this morning -- exactly a year later -- I felt it's time to share. Ayahuasca is a sacred herbal blend, created from jungle plants and vines. One drinks it to go on a Shamanic journey and face one's own death. The purpose is multifaceted: to befriend death--transforming our most basic fears, to commune with spirit guides from other dimensions, to deal with any personal obstacles that crop up, and to purge heavy energies that need to be released. It's not merely to empty the stomach and bowels of food. Instead, it pulls dark or heavy energy (hucha) from the body to be expelled -- it's healing, not just voiding. Marcela said that it also forms a relationship with Dr. Ayahuasca and encouraged us to ask questions of the plant and have a dialogue. It's said that the medicine continues to work for months or even years after taking it. I've found this to be true.
Some preliminaries: this entry is based on my journals from that time, and isn't intended as scholarly, logistical or a how-to approach to taking Ayahuasca. Secondly, I had these experiences with after 3 years of study with Four Winds -- I and the whole group were cared for and safe. I would not take Ayahuasca in circumstances where I didn't feel secure, or prepared, and taking it is optional with the Four Winds. Thirdly, this was my second visit to the Amazon and my second exposure to Ayahuasca -- I originally went with my husband in 2005. Then I took a "mild" dose (mild and regular strength were offered) and was given a lovely, gentle trip filled with natural images and a feeling of connection with nature. Finally, I'm making this retelling as visceral as possible. If you are squeamish, you won't enjoy it.
The people who learn for decades how to create their own unique blend of Ayahuasca by living alone in the jungle for months, and who hold sacred space for others to take it, don't like being called Shamans. They prefer Ayahuascaros or Maestros (Spanish for teacher). During the ceremony, the Ayhuascaros manage the group energy with chanting, rattling and breathing techniques (and probably other tactics/abilities that I'm unaware of). Also, it's traditional to take Ayahuasca at night and with no illumination -- so that one's vision comes from within and not the outside world. Participating is all about trust.
June 28th, a year ago, I and about 20 others chose to go with Orlando (one of the 3 Maestros who were working with our large group). It took place in the bar area, which is lined with benches and has a concrete floor. The entire lodge had big, screened windows, so jungle noises are always present. At about 8pm, it was dark (June is winter for Peru) and when we began, the large space was only lit by a couple of candles.
When it was my turn, I approached Orlando and his helper -- I wish I learned his name. There was no "mild" offering, but if there was, I had decided I was ready for full strength. With a smile, Orlando offered his small, wooden cup to me and I drank the dark brew without hesitation. It's a complex taste that most people don't like -- bitterness, mixed with earthy licorice and a touch of astringent green plants. Then I returned to my seat on the floor -- we used the long, pleather bench cushions, which made lots of rubbery sounds when you moved. As the brew warmed my stomach, I sat placidly, holding my mesa and watching the rest of the group go up to drink their fill. When everyone had taken it (except Orlando and his aid), he blew out the candles and began to chant.
I loved Orlando's voice -- a clear, melodic tenor with excellent pitch control. Each of his songs, (which were a mixture of chants or whistling sometimes accompanied with rattling or shaking dried leaves) lasted maybe 7-10 minutes. When he'd finish one, he'd pause, listening or seeing how we were, then he'd make sucking/blowing noise -- I guess to help move the energy, and go to another song. It was a beautiful, intimate sharing that was filled with his care for us.
The first few minutes after taking Ayahuasca, it's important to try to keep it down, so that it can permeate your system, which is why I sat up. I felt queasy off and on, but the feeling resolved by itself. Waiting for the affects to start, the noise of others moaning, sighing and occasionally puking into their personal black garbage bags (loud and crinkly) was annoying. Add to this the rubbery noise of scooting/shifting around on the bench cushions -- it was comical. I was quiet, bouncing between irritation and amusement at the lumbering noises and delight at Orlando's singing. It seemed to take much longer for me to feel the affects, which made me wonder what was wrong.
I lay on my back, holding my mesa over my chest. After a while, it felt like the mesa was beating like a heart. Then I got queasy and sat up. Nothing happened, so I put on my wind breaker on and lay on my left side (the best side for stomach issues), using my mesa as a pillow under my head. Then it began.
My body and face gradually got numb and then heavy, like I had died. The ability to move was there, but if I did, the numbness went away. It only came on when I was still. Kaleidoscopes and fractals began to dance before my closed eyes, moving in time to Orlando's music. I plunged in readily (so far this was very similar to my 2005 experience), but would often get jolted out of the trip by the noise in the room. My mind could function normally, so it was part of the work to chose what focus on. Surrendering my irritation was necessary.
The visions were like Vegas style flashing lights, in ever changing fractals and webs. I wondered what it was -- they were often abstract patterns, but I saw the inside of a space ship (if you knew me -- not a surprise), and a blend of eyes, wings, starfish and lion fish images. The entire image pulsed, vibrated and merged. All along, I felt Orlando's watchful presence, and that his songs moved my journey along. The yawning, snoring, moaning, puking sounds continued to be a large presence too, pulling me out frequently.
I don't know how much time passed. I was lying on my left side, very still and with a hand over my face, to blot out the noise, which had probably dissipated by then, when I heard "are you ok?" It was Orlando's helper, seemingly at a great distance. I didn't respond. Then he asked again. I realized he was talking to me and that almost everyone was gone (people can leave when they feel a sense of completion). I answered "uh-huh," in a strange girlish voice. The helper (who had a lit candle) asked me to sit up. Then, Orlando blew some florida water or essential oils (I wasn't sure which) on my crown and into my open hands. Then he pressed my hands together.
I saw a strong image of kaleidoscopic black wings against a red/orange flame-like background. I later remembered that Marcela had said Orlando is a dragon and that people see it during the Ayahuasca ceremony. Dragons are people who've mastered serpent, jaguar and eagle (South, West and East). After he blew on me, I stayed sitting, but was sent back into that other dimension -- it felt more intense and I enjoyed it. Then I realized that I had to pee.
Eventually, I slowly, shakily got up and shuffled to the bathroom -- each one had a lit candle visible under the door. Again, my movement made the trip withdraw. I thought the women's room was occupied, so I went in the men's and sat on a skinny, uncomfortable seat (was the seat left up?) and peed, followed by effortless diarrhea. When I got up to flush the toilet, it was full of black liquid. Still woozy, I shuffled back to pick up my mesa and water bottle. It was difficult finding the door, but I very slowly crossed to it and out into the night. It felt like it ought to have been dawn, but the half moon was up, with a sprinkle of stars. I gradually made my way back to my cabin. The visions were mostly gone.
I returned a few minutes before my room-mate -- a lovely, earthy woman from Australia who'd agreed to share. We were both giggly and happy (she'd taken Ayahuasca elsewhere) and shared our stories briefly. I figured that perhaps I wasn't as clean (in the candle-lit bathroom) as I'd like to be, but was tired, so kept my underwear on and went to sleep.
After maybe an hour, I woke up with stomach pain. I got up and slowly felt my way in the dark room (lights go out after 10pm) to the bathroom, tracking -- where are you going to come out? I had diarrhea, then had to feebly maneuver my head over the toilet to barf. While I threw-up, I also filled my underwear with more shit! In dismay and trembling, I pulled my disgusting underwear off, slowly climbed to my feet and toddled to the sink. I rinsed them out, then took a cold shower from the waist down and crawled into bed. The next morning I was revolted to find my crap all over the floor. I cleaned it with a wet towel. After apologizing for the mess to my roommate -- who was more than understanding, I asked a staff member to come and disinfect everything. Most of the day I was weak and tired. I napped about 2-3 hours in a hammock over looking the Rio De Madre river.