So I participated in an iboga ceremony about a year ago. The official story is that I’ve been waiting to submit an article on it because I wanted to be able to speak with some minor degree of authority about its more long-term effects. But the reality of the situation is that I’ve been afraid to try to write about it. Because I damn well know that I can’t do it justice. And I think it’s a really big deal.
Iboga utterly astonished me.
Now, the Teafaerie is easy to amuse, but she’s remarkably difficult to astonish. Which isn’t to suggest that I’m not both enormously impressed and perpetually perplexed by the wide variety of mental states that mysteriously turn out to be available to human beings through the ingestion of various plants and chemicals. But it really has been a good long time since something totally schooled me, healed me, cracked me up, pissed me off, gobsmacked me with beauty, shocked me to the core, redeemed my most closely held mythos, and then fundamentally reoriented my entire reality grid.
It was probably the most incredible psychedelic experience that I’ve ever had in my life. And I mean that quite literally. It is difficult to credit it.
I would not have believed it myself if it hadn’t happened to me, personally. Sometimes I still don’t believe it. I didn’t really buy into the stuff that I read when I perused other people’s trip reports in advance of my expedition, and frankly I don’t expect very many people to accept my own testimony at face value, either. Because it’s going to sound like I’m making this up.
The first thing that I heard about iboga was that it was supposedly some kind of a miracle cure for opiate addicts. I was told that it’s made from the root bark of an African shrub called Tabernanthe iboga. And I was told that there is a whole religion in Gabon called Bwiti that regularly incorporates iboga in various ritual contexts such as initiatory practices. I was also told that people who take it when they’re trying to come off of heroin don’t get sick from withdrawals in the way that they normally would. Instead, they get to enjoy 24 hours of abrasive life review during which the Ghost of Christmas Past takes them around to see every single shitty thing that they’ve ever done. It actually seems to block the persistent cravings for a little while after the treatment, my informants informed me, and it can give addicts a bit of a window wherein they are free to go forth and remake their lives.
All of this turns out to be true, at least to some degree.
The iboga ceremony that I was graciously invited to participate in took place in a rural area outside of Amsterdam. Iboga is legal in the Netherlands, so the beautiful couple who facilitated the experience are able to practice their healing arts openly. (I still want to be just like you when I grow up, Maria!) Therefore their home is decked out as a full time “Dream Temple”, and everything from the decor to the arrangement of the furniture is harmoniously designed around the iboga experience itself.
These people had actually trained in Gabon for a long time, and they incorporated some Bwiti into their rituals, but I’m not qualified to say exactly how much of their process was directly adapted from that tradition. It was all very grounding and comforting, though. I was pretty darn nervous and they put me at ease. I could tell that they felt competent in their practice and confident in the efficacy of the medicine. They seemed genuinely happy and excited for all of us, and that spirit was contagious. It helped people to open up.
I think that there were eleven Celebrants in attendance, several of whom confessed to having serious opiate addictions. One guy was there because he wanted to get over his lifetime obsession with a girl who wasn’t having it anymore. There were a couple of alcoholics and habitual tobacco smokers. There was a woman who was looking for resolution about childhood abuse issues. Another was processing profound grief. Some people sought clarity about their life paths. As for myself, I thought that I just wanted to see what it was all about.
And that I did. And then some. I cannot explain. I can’t even sum up. So I guess I’ll just share some impressions and highlights.
We ingested it in something somewhat close to the traditional method, knocking back shot glasses full of ground up dried root bark (with plenty of water!) every thirty minutes for a number of rounds. Synthesized ibogaine is generally injected with a needle, and apparently it tends to come on rather strong. I haven’t tried it both ways, but I have nothing but positive things to say about the slow, smooth “you’re soaking in it” approach.
As advertised, I did persistently have the sensation of being in communion with a very wise and exceedingly complex entity. As ever, I couldn’t tell if the blazing intelligence that I seemed to be communicating with was literally the spirit of the Plant Teacher itself, or if that particular plant’s alkaloids are simply keys that unlock a program that is actually stored on my own genetic code somehow, or in the collective unconscious, or in the cloud. It presented as something with which I could have an intelligible conversation, though. Which totally never happens to me. It did seem to me as if it expressed a distinct personality. It even had a sense of humor.
The Other occurred for me in an explosion of forms, both male and female. It expressed itself in a strikingly large number of distinct modes. But I always essentially felt like I was addressing the same enormity, and I always felt like it was unambiguously on my side.
Iboga reminded me of the Dark Tree on Dagobah in The Empire Strikes Back. It knows exactly what scares you, it knows exactly how sick you are, and it doesn’t pull punches at all. It will totally go there. But as in the case of the Dark Tree, there is just you and it. It was all of the stuff that I’d taken with me, plus access to some kind of a sentient, wise, and compassionate sorting program.
In contrast, at times I’ve experienced ayahuasca as something like a wide-spectrum antenna. It can indeed be used to tune into one of these wise, loving, powerful, artistic, atemporal, multi-dimensional hyperintelligences, but it also seems to be able to tap into a whole bunch of somewhat more ambiguous channels. I’m never quite convinced that my access is not being exploited by whatever self-installing little cookie monsters just happen to be in the neighbourhood. Of course, I’m not in any position to testify that iboga is perfectly safe in that regard, (reports vary widely), I’m just telling you that I personally didn’t get the sense that I needed to be on the lookout for any bad tricksiness.
One of the most mindboggling manifestations that I can remember started happening pretty close to the beginning of my trip. I was lying down under the covers waiting for this strange new drug to come on, right? And while I was waiting, I was playing with my smartphone. Only I never had my smartphone. It was actually upstairs in my backpack the entire time. It’s like I was dreaming that I had my phone, but it was a solid, heavy object in my hand, and its dim flickering light softly illuminated the interior of my little blanket fort. I was kind of nervous about what this crazy drug that I’d already ingested a couple of rounds of was actually going to feel like when it finally kicked in, so in order to comfort and distract myself I was looking through “My Pictures”, which was mysteriously populated with hundreds or perhaps even thousands of photo-realistic screenshots from my life. They were exquisitely curated. Here were all of the most pivotal moments in my personal history, and each thumbnail seemed like the best possible picture that could ever have been taken of that particular scene. Furthermore, they were displayed in chronological order, and I could find things that I was looking for by scrolling forward and backward in time. When I found a scene that I was interested in, I could click on its little icon and I would be instantaneously transported there. And it wasn’t all fuzzy around the edges, either. It felt exactly as substantial as I feel right now. No, really. Sometimes I re-lived the scenes from the first-person perspective of my younger self, and sometimes I felt like a disembodied camera up in the corner of the room. Whenever I was looking out of my own eyes I seemed to be replaying all of my original thoughts, feelings, and even physical sensations with uncanny fidelity. When my viewpoint was outside of my body, I could observe things as they unfolded from a more impassive state. I could sometimes intentionally switch modalities, too. When I was in the observational mode I could (occasionally) move my virtual camera around so as to watch the same events play out from a different point of view. When I was in the smartphone mode I could move the little thumbnails around. I also remember trying to decide if it was safe to drag a memory into the Trash folder, and intending to do this with something that I deemed to be relatively inconsequential. But now I honestly don’t remember what it was.
This thing with the phone was a recurrent motif. Which was kind of funny because it was something that one of the preternaturally perceptive facilitators had called me out on earlier in the day. “You sure are attached to your phone, aren’t you?” It is true that I am. And iboga totally scolded me about it a little bit, too. But the amazing thing to me was how smoothly it adapted itself to my particular idiosyncratic processes in order to serve me up with a totally serviceable and intimately familiar interface.
Much much much later in the trip I said aloud that I couldn’t tell if I was laughing or crying, and a horizontal bar with a big red dot in the middle of it appeared right in front of my eyes. I could put my finger on the dot and slide it along the bar like a volume controller. When I moved it to the left I would be laughing hysterically. When I slid it to the right I’d be sobbing my heart out. I went outside and played with this effect for about 20 minutes and it kept right on working just exactly the way that I’m describing it to you. It worked like a charm throughout the entire trip, and in fact it continues to work to a lesser degree even to this day. I have only to consciously try to bring up that interface.
You probably think that I’m lying already. And who can blame you? I had read about something akin to the magical smartphone effect in several separate trip reports before embarking. One person said that he’d found himself standing in front of that gigantic array of TVs from The Architect’s office in The Matrix, and each one of them was flashing through a whole bunch of different scenes from his life. Somebody else reported that he was surrounded by hundreds of transparent rectangular prisms, within which his memories seemed to be playing themselves out like miniature holograms. He testified that when he picked one of them up and brought it close to his eyes, he could zoom into that memory just exactly as if he were there. And I read that report like you’re reading this now. Without getting it.
The same thing happened again near the end of the heaviest part of my trip, too. My very best friend passed away a few years ago, and for a long time I was obsessed with trying to find all of our records. We had recorded the majority of our best conversations over a number of years, and I’ve only been able to recover a tiny portion of them. I’d fixated on this problem because it was shallower and more tangible than the soul-shriveling abyss of my actual existential dilemma. I must have literally spent at least a thousand hours actively grieving about my lost records.
And then there I was, holding a book the size that a really big photo album is to a little tiny kid. It was bound with that shiny fake leather stuff, and it said “My Records” on the outside in gold leaf. The script that it was written in was uncannily beautiful. And inside there were a bunch of Polaroid photographs of me and my friend, all immaculately composed and curated. It was the same deal as it was with the pictures on my phantom smartphone. I could find stuff by flipping forward and backward in the album, because everything seemed to be arranged in chronological order. I couldn’t get ahead of it by suddenly skipping a few pages, either. The detail was always all right there waiting for me. This book was a seemingly solid object, just like my phone had been earlier. I could clutch it to my chest. Which I did. I cried what may well have been dream tears all over it, too. “How did you think that you could ever lose your Records?” the presence asked me in a soothing voice.
The thing that I want to impress upon you is how very artful all of this was. It seemed to me like lots of computational cycles, if not actual “time”, must have been spent on the elaboration of that book. The photographs were all crystal clear, and every single one of them was amazing. They were artistically arranged on the pages. The freaking clingy plastic sheets that I had to peel back to take the pictures out curled back off of the corners of the slightly sticky pages in aesthetically satisfying ways. And, sure enough, when I took out a particular photograph and stared at it intently, I was instantaneously transported directly into that memory. Ironically, I could never seem to remember the going-into-the-memory process, but I clearly remember the seemingly endlessly recurrent re-emergence into the reality in which I had my phone or my Records book.
The various modalities seemed to come and go in long interlocking cycles like themes in a fugue. In addition to the astonishingly accurate memory playback mode, it smoothly transitioned from a mathemagical/organic wallpaper mode (beautiful purple and dark translucent blue, backlit in deep indigo), to an occasionally hilarious cartoon mode, to a fully immersive photo-realistic but obviously fictional dreamworld mode. All were artistically stunning.
Let me give you a little taste of what I’m talking about. At one point I temporarily came around for a minute and I was feeling almost as if I were totally sober again. So I asked this thing to show me what it was up to. Then I suddenly found myself standing in the swamp where the original Furthur bus is. But it wasn’t just a shot of the actual bus from somewhere, it was the Teafaerie’s hyper-romanticized version of it. Every single fleck of paint was peeling off of it in precisely the right way. I mean this bus was a work of art, as was the fully immersive swamp that it was sitting in. It seemed as real and as richly detailed as my primary reality does. I simply cannot stress this point enough. All of my senses seemed to be fully operational. It felt just like I was breathing the air and everything.
The bus was full all the way to the top with muddy brown water, and after a moment some kind of a plug fell out of the bottom, and the sludge starting draining through the hole and spreading out into the grass around my feet. The sun was setting through the trees behind the bus, and as the muck level lowered, it started sparkling through the windows. The little rusting window locks were exactly Perfect. The muddy water droplets that formed on the inner surface of the double-paned glass windows were exactly Perfect. I then I suddenly woke up and had to make a mad scrambling lurch for the bathroom. I totally made it, but I had the liquid runs in a big way. Apparently when I’d asked it what it was doing just at that particular moment, the best answer that it could come up with was that it was cleaning the dirty water out of a disused but once glorious and still magical vehicle.
It’s a pretty tough ride, though. When iboga gets to set the agenda (and it gets to set the agenda whenever it so pleases), it doesn’t necessarily want to take you on a tour of your finest moments. It is absolutely merciless. It took me through my best friend’s passing something like 20 times. First person. Just relive it and rewind it and relive it and rewind it and relive it and rewind it again. And the Teafaerie is screaming “How many times do I have to do this?!”
To which the voice did not hesitate for a moment before replying, “Until you can stay present.”
It took me a few more rounds. I never lost sight of the feeling that it was trying to help me, though.
Another time it took me back to a truly inappropriate but non-violent exchange that I’d had with a creepy adult when I was maybe 7 or 8. That interaction was something that at one point I’d made much of, and that I had assumed to be among the causes of my various neuroses. It took me through the whole icky scene in the first person mode. Interestingly, my deep instinct was that what iboga was showing me was the actual scene, too, not the modified memory that I had unconsciously been editing over the years.
It then proceeded to fast-forward me through a part of the same day. I played a variation on hide and seek, had a snack, caught a lizard, and ran around doing some other seemingly random little kid stuff. All in fast-forward, with the sound of a tape being fast-forwarded in the background. I zoomed through something like an hour and a half in a few minutes.
Then it snapped back into regular time, at a point in the day when I was being tickle-tortured by my cousins. During the review of this scene, I was totally immersed in my bodily sensations exactly as if it were actually happening. And it really really hurt, too! I was struggling, and I wasn’t laughing on the inside, and I was sincerely about to piss myself. I was screaming and begging for mercy, but they all seemed to think that it was hilarious. Kids that I wanted to like me were pointing and laughing at me. When I finally got away and went to tell an authority figure, I was summarily admonished not to be such a bratty little tattletale, and sent back outside for some more of the same. I stared up into the sky in anguish and humiliation. Then the scene totally froze and the voice of iboga came through loud and clear: “Both of those experiences took place on the same day,” it reminded me. “Which one of them was actually the most traumatic?”
There was no comparison. The first scene had been conceptually disturbing and the experience itself had been a bit awkward and uncomfortable, but in what I took to be the actual unedited memory, it sort of had an appealing/appalling “grown ups sure do like some strange stuff” flavor to it, whereas the tickle-torture scene was pretty much as rapey as it comes. Then the voice broke in again to ask me “Which one did you tell a story around and make it mean something about yourself?”
Oh, shit. Wow. Okay. Damn. You totally got me! I didn’t even see that coming! I hadn’t been traumatized by the truly horrific tickle-torturing scene at all. I’d completely forgotten about it, in fact. Because the ultimate take-away had just been that my cousins are assholes, and I already knew that. The damage that I’d picked up from the scene with the creepy adult had all come from my own internal storytelling around what it must mean about me as a person. In reality, it was just that this dude had a low (and intoxicated) consciousness, a bunch of self-hatred, and poor impulse control. And I was just a kid doing what pretty much what any kid would do. It didn’t suggest anything particularly important about who I am at all.
And then with the purging. (Oh yeah, and did I mention that iboga is a purgative? I didn’t feel all that nauseated so long as I lay relatively still, but a nearby barf bucket was definitely a necessity. Full-strength iboga is never going to be a popular party drug.) After I purged I felt absolutely incredible, though. It literally felt like a weight coming off of my shoulders, as if I had finally set down a backpack that I’d been carrying around for so long that I’d forgotten that it was there. And then with the weeping with gratitude.
There were some deep pattern cleanses too, which are a big part of what I think is so important about this particular medicine. The impression I got is that this drug temporarily upgrades the internal search engine, like a free trial of the fancier and more expensive registered version of your personal memory sorting software. The fully searchable one with all of the bells and whistles. (Let’s leave the implications of a hyperintelligent search engine with a subtle and sophisticated sense of humor entirely aside for the moment.) The memory matrix can be searched in a wide variety of ways. It’s possible to search on a feeling, or on the history of a particular idea; tracing the threads of its elaboration, revision, calcification and eventual redemption in one’s life. It is possible to search on a kink, and find out where it comes from. You can search on a habit pattern, and bring up all of the most important memories about a particular person. Or a particular relationship. And then instantly call up a ridiculously artistic display of the search results. Indexed in chronological order. Complete with thumbnails.
Not all of the scenes were fully immersive. Sometimes I just flashed through a series of moments like flipping through a deck of cards. But somehow I understood that all of those moments were somehow connected “from the back”, even though they had occurred as separate events that were spread out in space and time. They were all the result of some sort of a virus, some piece of bad code, some demon, some misunderstanding; and by partially re-living every single time that I’d ever felt a certain way all at once (it really is a lot of times!), I got a rare and invaluable opportunity to experience each mental habit pattern as a complete gestalt. I got to watch how it developed. I came to understand my relationship to it. And at last to have compassion for myself for having been stuck in such a painful cycle. Then again with the purging and with the gratitude. Over and over and over and over again. For seriously 24 hours.
Iboga dredged up some deeply ingrained patterns that I never would have thought to bring up for review, too. It showed me my desk in the second grade, for example. It was stuffed full to overflowing with (amongst other things) an avalanche of crumpled papers, some of them finished homework assignments that I was mysteriously unable to complete the simple process of turning in. Then it showed me my backpack in junior high. And my locker in high school. And my closet in college. And the trunk of my car…
I don’t want to get too far into the details of my personal demons in this forum, but in my experience (which has been augmented by many in-depth conversations with others who have taken iboga, as well as by reading every single iboga report on Erowid, just for starters), iboga seems to be an absolutely amazing medicine for disrupting all sorts of unwanted compulsive behavior patterns.
Nothing works 100% of the time. The center that I went to boasted a non-recidivism rate for opiate addicts that was just over 30% at the one year mark, which on the one hand is still getting an F. But when you actually stop to think about the fact that 30% of serious opiate addicts claimed that they hadn’t gone back to the smack for a whole year after only having had one single treatment, it really is freaking miraculous.
Iboga is not just for junkies anymore, though. (That’s certainly not what it’s used for in Gabon). I think that the iboga experience is an ideal tool to address anything that resonates with the feeling of “why do I just keep on doing this thing when I don’t even enjoy it?” It really could turn out to be excellent for treating eating disorders, self harm, obsessions with kinks that you don’t like, recurring rages, and dozens of other afflictions. I personally experienced it as a first-rate defrag; it seems to find all of those weird little partitioned-off thought loops that are always kind of running in the background and reformats them. Then suddenly you have a whole lot of empty space on your hard drive. It may well be that it’s going to turn out to be a real game changer for people who suffer from OCD and the like. It would certainly be super awesome if it did.
After tripping hard for full solar cycle, I experienced another several hours worth of visioning that would have seemed like an enormous deal in itself if it hadn’t had to follow the full-on iboga trance act. I was still getting long streaming memory cascades at like +30 hours, and I had the peculiar sensation of actual empty-mindedness, too. I was definitely conscious, but there was absolutely no background chatter going on. There really wasn’t a song in my head. I was not writing unsendable letters to foolish lovers who had (inconceivably!) jilted me. I was just lying there and breathing. This was, quite honestly, one of the most simultaneously unbelievable and indescribable aspects of the entire experience. If I knew as an absolute fact that five years worth of consistent meditation and self denial would lead to me being able to return to that particular state whenever it pleased me to do so, I’d probably start putting in the time.
After it was over, we all sat around and talked about it. It was then that I got a chance to witness the shocking truth behind the whole remission of opiate addiction mythos. What I saw with my own eyes was like five or six people who rightfully should have been hating life. They should have been rolling around in the gnarliest throes of extreme opiate withdrawal; cussing out their long-suffering friends from the corner of the bathroom floor where they huddled trembling and delirious in a nauseated daze. But there they were, watching the sunrise. They were shaky and visibly moved, but they were not sick. They were sipping weak tea and discussing how they might go back to school and get their freaking Masters degrees. And that’s when the Teafaerie finally fell apart. I went back to my mat and I just cried for a couple of hours. I cried for my past, and for the human past. For how heavy it all is. For how much of it is still to come. For the oppression of eternity. For the pain that is implicit in attachment and impermanence. For the passionate dramas of fall and redemption that play out in every single everyday life on a variety of scales.
Then the dam broke and I was suddenly overwhelmed by how beautiful it all is. I was absolutely convinced that life is a work of art, a massively multiplayer game designed for deeply jaded gods who have truly seen it All. (Created by billions and played by trillions!) And I realized with an exquisite clarity that I was the character inside of it that I might have most wanted to be.
This is our beautiful perfect universe in which stuff like Hiroshima happens. But it is a kind of a magical story, and the flow of casuistry really does seem to be governed by some sort of an overarching aesthetic sensibility. Or perhaps by the harmonious interplay of a number of disparate but ultimately aesthetically consonant sensibilities. The general thrust of the plot, I felt finally and definitively assured, was ultimately in good hands. And we even know how it goes. Because the Hero’s Journey that the entirety of the World Soul is destined to play out is the same story that occurs fractally distributed at every level throughout the entire narrative matrix. It comes right down to a dramatic climax, and then the scrappy little underdog good guys save the day with a transformative act of surrender. And the survivors live happily ever after. At least until the next round. Because that’s just how the Story goes. Perhaps what I experienced in those moments is what is commonly meant by the word “faith”. Which is something that I’ve never been much good at.
I didn’t keep up with my fellow congregants after the Ceremony, so I can’t tell you how many of them experienced any long-term integration, or remission from their various preoccupations. Everybody left the Dream Temple with something like the diametrical opposite of a hangover, though. And at this point I have had quite a few people personally testify to me about having been terminal junkies themselves, and about how they passionately believed that iboga or ibogaine treatments had literally saved their lives.
I followed the Ceremony up with six weeks of no alcohol, pot, tobacco, caffeine, sugar, meat, wheat, or dairy. Just to see if I could do it. And I totally could do it, too. It was a little bit annoying at times, but it was substantially less difficult that it had been when I had attempted to do the exact same thing the year before as part of a solidarity campaign in support of a friend who was trying to quit drinking. I found that a lot of my unconscious little habit patterns had seemingly managed to resolve themselves, too. Mostly little things like always leaving most of my cupboards and drawers hanging wide open after I’d finally dug up whatever it was that I was looking for.
After the six weeks was over, I decided to experimentally allow myself to do whatever I felt attracted to doing (within reason), and I’m disappointed to report that I more or less went right back to drinking beers and smoking spliffs just as soon as I removed the official restrictions that I had formally bound myself to adhere to for the duration of my fast. When I decided to quit smoking pot again, it was surprisingly easy to do. I can’t personally report that iboga actually installed any true inhibitions around my habitual activities, however. It just seemed to blunt the compulsion. But substance abuse has never really been my biggest problem in the first place. It didn’t actually do much about my biggest problem, truth be told. Or, rather, I should say that the Teafaerie did not successfully manage to fully iron out her most persistently annoying energetic wrinkle on the very first occasion that she tried working with iboga. I do feel like I made a little bit of progress on it, though.
In the end, iboga left me with more questions than answers. This is probably in large part due to my tendency to overthink everything. But when I finally got over the first flush of processing the personal content of my experience, I inevitably started turning my attention to trying to sort out both the cosmic and the karmic implications of the fact that this kind of a modality suite apparently exists at all, and can be accessed.
For one thing, there’s the hope of some help for the addicts amongst us. Iboga is not without risk, particularly for people who have serious heart and/or liver conditions. Sadly, a few people have actually died during treatment. But far far more people have died in the past 24 hours due to accidents and excesses secondary to compulsive and addictive behavior. Each individual person has to weigh his or her options carefully, and decide what course of action is the least risky and most potentially rewarding for themselves.
I am confident, as I have stated, that iboga (or ibogaine, or some similar compound) is going to turn out to be widely applicable as a generalized defragmentation and self-reformatting tool. It dredges up suppressed memories like nothing that there has ever been. And it allows the Immersant to either re-live them or to observe them from a position of relative detachment depending upon how they need to process that particular event. At first blush it feels to me exactly like a psychotherapist’s dream come true.
So that’s why I think that it’s going to be useful. But I’m way more excited about what it implies. It depends upon which theory you happen to believe in, of course. But no matter what you pick, it’s still astounding.
Everybody fixes their memories in the mix. We all edit and creatively reframe the vast majority of the things that have happened to us. This is a positive survival trait. It allows us to interpret the raging chaos of our direct experience in the form of a simplified narrative. Nothing demonstrates this effect more effectively than iboga. It even has the ability to show you precisely how your memory of a particular event has evolved over time. Iboga allowed me to successfully rewrite quite a few of the counterproductive stories that I had been telling myself for far too long. I bet that I’ll remember many of those scenes from my past in a different way now, too. Not necessarily because I altered the memory itself, but because I got a chance to witness whatever it is that happened to me from an alternate perspective.
The scenes that I revisited under the influence of iboga emphatically did NOT feel like the heavily edited version of my memories that I keep on my own personal hard drive, however. What it really felt like was exactly as if the entire universe has always been being played off of some kind of a recorded medium in the first place, and iboga was quite simply just running me through all of those segments again. It felt as if all of the data is still there. Like each and every moment that I have ever lived still totally exists somewhere in the however-many dimensional matrix that we’re ever so pleased to call the space-time continuum. And they can all be revisited.
What I’d like to believe that it means is that we’re all going to end up getting to share our memories someday. Some people in my group claimed that they were able to re-experience some of their memories from the other person’s point of view. The Teafaerie cannot officially stamp that, though. I don’t think that it happened to me. There was this one segment where I felt like I might have been my mother just lying in her bed for a while, but I don’t really have any great confidence in that. Some people said that they were literally seeing themselves because they were actually looking out of the other person’s eyes, though. They reported that they felt like they really were that other person, too. (Whatever that means.)
This is important, if true. I hadn’t heard that it was even a possibility until after I’d already come down. But the next time that I get a chance to take iboga, I’m going to ask it very politely if it might be willing to show me something like that. If I am actually able to access anybody else’s memories, then it might help me to sort out the Mystery. It would rule out the idea that all of it is being stored and processed in my own individual brain, anyway. If it felt real enough to be truly convincing, that is. Which is a pretty high bar for me.
As usual, the most mundane explanation is in some senses the most exciting one. A skeptic would say that all of this has to be happening in my own brain, right? A program as complex and subtle as iboga’s search engine can in no way whatsoever be being stored on the structure of such a simple molecule. You can make that molecule just by sticking a bunch of the right atoms together. There’s simply no way that the molecule itself is carrying all of that information. I’d be willing to bet whatever you want on it. So that leaves the brain and the cloud. And the Plant Spirit.
The brain leads by a mile for the psychedelic skeptics. The suggestion is that these exquisitely organized subroutines must already exist in our brains; that they are transmitted to us in the DNA somehow. Perhaps we evolved them but we somehow stopped using them. Or maybe they’re an emergent effect of the crossing of a whole bunch of complex functions that we do use. Like the Dream Engine, which does indeed have both a first person and an observational mode, and which we all know to be fully capable of elaborating extremely realistic environments and even apparently autonomous characters.
In this model we are dripping with an absolutely astounding amount of processing power. It’s possible that we really are storing our memories with something close to immaculate fidelity, even though we’re not normally able to access them in that way. Either that, or we are capable of taking a few random fragments of a sketchily transcribed memory and then instantaneously reconstructing an extremely convincing simulacrum of the original experience. Over and over and over again. Without ever getting busted by the continuity detector. By which I mean that I never managed to catch it getting anything wrong. As far as I could tell, that really was every single book on my shelf in the second grade. And the stain on my carpet. And the smell of my sweatshirt. And all of the papers that were actually stuffed in my desk.
And if they were not, then the ability to whip up something so very plausible and so very consistent is astonishing in itself. I don’t even know which interpretation would actually be a more impressive demonstration of the remarkable sophistication and agility of the human brain. On top of which, the brain-only theory goes on to suppose that we already have all of the answers. All of that profound wisdom and clarity must be lying dormant on our systems somewhere, along with that ridiculous search engine, and the “entity” itself. We are also asked to accept the idea that all of that incredible artwork is our own, and that that its common motifs are merely artifacts of our similarly constructed brains. According to this theory, it must also be supposed that the Teafaerie’s own personal imagination is capable of instantaneously generating something as aesthetically majestic as that swamp-decayed Merry Prankster’s bus, just for starters. If this is so, then I am (unbeknownst to my everyday self) a sublimely magnificent artist! I truly mean it when I say that some of the art that I saw in the course my iboga experience was sincerely world class. It was honestly millions of miles ahead of all of the exterior art that I have ever seen, in fact. I mean, it was Perfect.
Or it could be that we’re accessing some sort of a Plant Teacher. I don’t know if we’d feel any differently about it if we had originally synthesized ibogaine in a lab. It does seem like that could have been possible. Would we have felt like we’d accessed a Plant Teacher that we just hadn’t happened to have discovered the plant for yet? Or is it that the whole constellated intelligence thing is partially a resonance effect that has gotten built up over generations of ritual use by human beings? And what happens to the Plant Spirit if the plant (or the culture that traditionally engages with it) goes extinct?
The other possibility is that the data is all in the cloud. It may be that we’re tapping into the collective unconscious, whatever that means. Alternatively, this might be the experience that lies at the heart of the Akashic Record meme. Or perhaps both of those concepts will ultimately turn out to be referring to the same thing.
I’m not going to digress into speculation about how something like that might be storing and processing its data. For one thing, I would just be blowing a bunch of smoke up your ass. Nobody has figured out exactly how that could work yet. But it doesn’t seem impossible to me that a larger system made up out of some kind of a mesh network of human (and possibly all other DNA-based) minds might have copious amounts of excess storage and processing power. This would go some distance toward explaining the commonality of vision and the persistent motifs; and also the idea of being able to see something from somebody else’s point of view. (If that even turns out to be true.)
My personal hope is that it’s going to turn out to be collective. In part it’s because I believe that this could be be a profoundly political revelation. If it could be substantially demonstrated that all of us are indeed connected, then perhaps we would learn to be a little bit kinder to one another. Besides which, it validates my own personal mission in life, which is making the most awesome memories for the most people possible. I’m playing my life like a massively multiplayer game in which the goal is to create living art. And of course I see the beauty in the concept of ephemera. And of course the totality of the Universe (or at least the teeming legions of my loyal fans out there in hyperspace) might just be appreciating it all quite perfectly well in the moment, and there really isn’t any need to save a record of it. Nevertheless, the idea that my personal experiences are a permanent part of an enduring and unique piece of truly epic art makes me happy. And I’d dearly love to be able to edit a few highlights reels.
The opinions expressed in this column are entirely my own. They are reflective of my own unique experiences. Individual testimony varies radically. It’s worth perusing the trip reports. A couple of good friends of mine travelled a long way (and spent a lot of money) after having heard my story, and they both had somewhat dark and ambiguous experiences. As ever, your mileage may vary.
I do think that this is a really big deal, though. In whatever sense that I can be said to have my finger on the psychedelic zeitgeist, I get the feeling that we’re finally about to reach an informational tipping point on this topic. A whole lot of people are going to be starting to get enormously interested in iboga in the very near future. Mark my words.
Which is a wonderful thing. But it’s also a dangerous thing. I even feel kind of ambiguous about shining more light upon the matter, to tell you the truth. The Teafaerie does not have the scholarship to get into the whole Bwiti thing here, but it is a profoundly beautiful and unique culture, and I feel that we would be wise to treat it with a great deal of respect. We don’t want to blow this thing up and turn these people’s villages into another Iquitos. We really really really really don’t. Economic inevitability is enough to tell us that beating a collective path to Gabon waving hundred dollar bills over our heads will lead to a whole lot of charlatanism and a host of other familiar evils. On the other hand, it may be that we as a species need what they’ve got. So let us learn from our mistakes.
I am hopeful that the Bwiti people themselves can help us to figure out how to best approach this thing gracefully if we’ll only pay attention.