Citation: Niko. "The Weird and the Wonderful: An Experience with Ayahuasca (exp108526)". Erowid.org. May 3, 2018. erowid.org/exp/108526
There are two stories to tell. The one in the room and the one in my mind. This account is weaved together from a sporadic mess of fragmented memories and feelings. I am sure it is not exactly accurate but captures the main themes I remember.
As I arrive everyone is sitting by the fire and saying their hellos. It’s a very diverse group. The usual flower children, older hippies and a large group of middle aged women from Turkey. The average age is probably 40. Everyone is chain smoking. I befriend a young youth counselor named Bas. We talk about travel and Zen meditation. He seems open minded, kind and intelligent. I instantly like him.
The general topic of discussion is Ayahuasca. “How many times did you drink? What did you experience? What were your insights?” As the group shares their thoughts, a common narrative emerges. It goes something like this:
Plants have been around for millions of years and hold an ancient wisdom.
Shamans learned to speak with the plants through the Ayahuasca brew
The brew is medicine. It makes you puke and shit because you are purging bad energies
If you succumb to the spirits then you will be rewarded with wisdom, if you resist and try and retain your mental faculties you won’t.
If you don’t recognize these truths it is because you have blocks. You are not ready for the wisdom and so you need to work on yourself to free your mind.
There is a lot of validating of this narrative during conversation. This instantly puts me at a distance with the group. I am not interested to join their religion. At the same time I don’t want to offend and find myself politely smiling and nodding a lot during conversation. I am concerned about my concern and the impact it will have during the ceremony and try my best to clear my head of it.
At around 10pm the ceremony begins. We all sit around a sacred fire and are told some practical ground rules. Here are the bathrooms, here are the vomiting holes. We should all refrain from talking or engaging with one another. It will largely be a solitary journey. If someone starts to have a meltdown, the shamans will go and help them. It is not our role to console or comfort as we can not know what they are experiencing or how our involvement will influence it.
There are three stages to the ceremony. First we snort tobacco juice. If that sounds unpleasant, it is, but it did wake me up and clear my sinuses. Then we each rise to have our bad energies or spirits or whatever ceremonially swept into the fire with incense and an exaggerated sweep of an eagle feather. Finally, it is time to drink the brew. The shaman pours a small cup of a brown earthy mix, blesses it with a prayer and gives it to us to drink. The taste is sour and metallic and instantly elicits a gag reflex. I lay back on my mat to await the coming rapture.
There are subtle waves of nausea and some swirling of colors but after an hour nothing much happens and I accept a second cup. The rest of the night is hard to account for but is generally unpleasant. I find it difficult to breathe from all the smoke, my stomach feels awful and my mind seems to be in a fever dream, locked in a loop of negative thoughts that go around and around. I finally puke and feel well enough to drift off to sleep.
The next day everyone is excitedly sharing their experiences. I am honest about mine. Bass also had a rough night and we both discuss whether we should stay for a second round or leave early. My friend Nav and I go for a walk to reflect. He had an amazing night due in no small part to his extensive mental preparation (he has read The Tibetan Book of the Dead and was using the weekend to explore its themes). I am encouraged by how well it can go when it goes well and decide to give it another try.
As we begin the second night’s ritual I take some lessons from my previous ordeal and break from tradition. Instead of joining the group around the fire I find a dark couch in the kitchen, close enough to hear the music but away from the smoke and sand. I also do not try and keep down the brew. Fifteen minutes after drinking I puke and instantly feel better. I can breathe and don’t feel sick. Body is better, now the mind.
I need a mindset shift. The framework of spirits and ancient wisdoms may help some to integrate their experiences but it doesn’t work for me and I realize I am free to discard it and adopt another.
The framework of spirits and ancient wisdoms may help some to integrate their experiences but it doesn’t work for me and I realize I am free to discard it and adopt another.
So instead of fussing over the sacred, I decide to instead be playful and turn my attention to the absurd. And the whole scene is so wonderfully absurd. This fits and I close my eyes and let myself drift with the music.
What follows is the feeling of pure potential. I am essentially in my own lucid dream, knowing full well that it is a dream and with the ability to create it in any way I want. I have my very own Experience Machine and I take it for a test ride with some straight unapologetic hedonism by re-creating the most exciting moments of my sex life, sometimes true to memory and sometimes combining them in novel combinations. Yes, this is fun.
Later in the night, I have a second round and return to my refuge on the couch. I become keenly interested in how to explain the value of Ayahuasca to the uninitiated and have the (seemingly) profound revelation that within the domain of my own mind, I am quite literally an all powerful disembodied consciousness. It is essentially the experience of playing god. This realization makes me quite manic for a moment as I proceed to exercise this newly discovered power to create, modify and then recreate my dream world in faster and faster iterations.
Paradoxically, at the same time I am having this “I am a God!” ego explosion, I also have the experience of witnessing myself from the outside and laughing at how silly I am acting. This kind of mental inception..of layers upon layers of awareness is a strange and recurring theme. It feels that I can see how each of my thoughts triggers another and then another. I can visualize the flow of my own conscientiousness from the outside.
I decide that these revelations are incredibly important and I need to capture them. I need to go to the next room to retrieve my notebook but I fear that to leave the trance like state is to risk losing the very knowledge I wish to capture. It is very much the sensation of being in a dream, with the power to wake oneself at any moment, but knowing that as soon as one does, the memories and intentions of that dream will fade after a few precious moments.
For a while I struggle with what seems like the most important battle for human knowledge that ever existed, and then again I move up a layer and observe myself from outside. Like popping a balloon, the high drama evaporates and is replaced by a recognition of my own absurdity. “The notebook is just in the next room. Just two minutes away. Just get up and get it.” As I get up to retrieve my notebook I am laughing at myself, fully aware of how ridiculous it all is. On the way back, I fumble to find the doorknob. Physically it’s a struggle but mentally I’m fully aware and enjoying the show.
As I scribble in the dark, I laugh at how incomprehensible this will all seem in the morning, like the ravings of a mad man. The words I manage to trace are “you forget as soon as you cross over” and “you can see your own thoughts”. The hallucinations eventually subside and I return to the fire where various people are singing and playing music well into the early morning. What a trip.
The next day Nav tells me he had the greatest weekend of his life. I got to play god. It seems that whatever the individual experiences were (and they certainly weren’t all good. One lady seemed to be going through a full blown exorcism), everyone was left with a general feeling of profundity and a lot to think about.
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