Citation: Dan. "Pain Poultice: An Experience with Ayahuasca (exp108690)". Erowid.org. Jan 30, 2018. erowid.org/exp/108690
I first heard of ayahuasca from a friend who had traveled from Washington to Taos, New Mexico to partake. His tale was intriguing, and I had previously experimented with mushrooms and acid a few times at Grateful Dead shows in the late 1980’s and 1990’s, so I was aware of how powerful psychedelics can be in changing one’s perspective of reality. ‘Steve’ was married, and prior to his trip to Taos he typically talked over his wife in what I considered to be inconsiderate. When I visited him at his home upon his return I was amazed to witness him sit quietly and watch his wife tell stories, all the while beaming his love at her.
I told Steve I was very interested in going along the next time the opportunity arose. A year later, it did, and I found myself flying to Taos to meet a Peruvian shaman and take the medicine over two nights. Steve told me that there might be a Vietnam veteran there, and that I should avoid sitting next to him. Apparently Steve had sat next to him during a previous ceremony and was overwhelmed with visions of pain and war. When I took the only spot left in the yurt that Friday evening, it was next to the vet. Steve was directly across the room and 13 other people including the shaman and his translator were also present, seated in a circle along the wall of the yurt. After sitting on my blanket on the hard floor for 20 minutes I realized I should have brought something more comfortable. It would be a long night for me.
My intention going in was to be open to the experience, and hopefully to engage with this other dimension I had read about, and perhaps to open up my spiritual self so as to better guide my life. The shaman began the ceremony by blessing the ayahuasca. He opened the liter bottle and blew over the opening several times in between chants. The shaman had rattles and feathers at his side and during the night he sang his icaros and shook the rattles rhythmically. It reminded me of scenes of Native Americans and medicine men from old movies and books. The shaman was very gentle in his movements and only looked at us directly when we went up to receive the medicine.
I squatted in front of the shaman who stared into my eyes, sizing me up before pouring the medicine. He was clearly a native Peruvian, small, with leathery brown skin, dark hair and eyes with an intense gaze. He seemed satisfied with me and his expression softened as he filled ¾ of the ceramic cup, about 4 ounces I would guess. It was thick and pungent, but not wholly unpleasant, tasting and smelling of dark vegetation. I downed it and returned to my blanket space.
The transition from normal sense to ayahuasca sense was quite slow. I sat quietly with good thoughts and waited with eyes open in the darkened room. There were windows at the top of the circular wall, about 8 feet up, but it was quite dark in the desert. After 40 minutes the first unusual thing I noticed was that there was a presence in the room that seemed to move with like a shadow. It seemed to be a man with long legs made of semi-transparent shade that shifted easily, as though breeze-blown. I felt his presence as he moved between the people in the darkness. It was disquieting but did not seem threatening or malevolent, although there was a significant power there. I had never experienced anything like it before. I got the impression that the spirit was taking the measure of the people in the yurt.
I closed my eyes and began to get interesting visuals, mostly in outline form, whitish yellow lines on ink-black background. It was somewhat cartoonish. Eyes kept appearing in different places in my field of vision. They seemed to be looking at me. At one point there was the outline of a man-beast. It was a large man’s muscular body with a bull’s head, horns and all. It stared at me and did a kind of dance, raising its legs and arms alternately. It seemed like a statement of strength. I was born under Taurus in the Zodiac and I wondered if there was a connection. These visions were fairly two dimensional and tame compared to those I had previously experienced under the influence of LSD and mushrooms, and yet they were completely new.
There were some disquieting effects as well. I found myself feeling compelled to project my tongue out like a lizard. I felt like I was becoming a lizard, or perhaps reverting to my lizard origins. It felt creepy and prehistoric. I felt like I was meant to be a lizard in that moment. This aspect of ayahuasca is apparently not unusual as Chris later confirmed that he experienced to same thing.
At some point my inner field of vision became a wall of differently colored blocks that was being slowly built. The bricks would slowly march along to a monotonous, dead clicking sound and then place themselves on the wall as it slowly grew higher. It was pretty boring to watch and the mechanical nature of it bothered me. It seemed to me to be reflecting the artificial nature of reality, that it is merely a construct, perhaps a computer simulation. The emptiness of it from a spiritual perspective was disturbing to me, and I wanted to deny it as a possible reality because it seemed to imply that we are all just machines or perhaps the product of machines. This sense of the mechanical nature of our underlying reality would repeat itself the following night during my second ceremony.
Periodically I would open my eyes and look around the circular room. Occasionally light seemed to enter the room from the windows at the top of the wall. I wondered whether it was passing cars, but we were fairly isolated. My eyes had adjusted to the dark and I could just make out the shaman as he chanted and sang his icaros off to my left. By now there were various sounds from participants emanating from the dark from moans to brief bouts of laughter or giggling. One guy was having an animated conversation and saying things like ‘no waaaay!’ in a very throaty, exaggerated manner like he just couldn’t believe whatever he was experiencing, but he was clearly happy about it. The shadow spirits were still moving about the room and I could feel them or a breeze they created as they shifted about. They definitely felt very alien but not necessarily threatening. The shaman’s voice would raise up fairly loud in those moments, as though he was trying to control or direct these spirits.
We had been given plastic buckets for the expected purging. I had read about this aspect of the ceremony and I kept my bucket close by. I began to hear folks retching in the dark. It sounded unpleasant, but I had no impulse to do it myself. The aya didn’t seem to bring anything up for me. From my research I had learned that the shaman believed that people were bringing up poisons from their spirit body that came out as physical matter. The retch could be the bile that contained the emotional illness from past abuse in this life or even from a trauma in a past life. This was how the medicine worked. The purge provided a physical and spiritual cleansing which healed that aspect of the individual. I didn’t purge on either night. But I had what one participant with 13 past ceremonies, including weeks in the Peruvian jungle, described as the biggest or second biggest experience she had ever witnessed. That was yet to come, and it would prove to be one of the most trying events of my life. But before that trial would begin, I began to have a wonderful experience which is quite difficult to remember in detail. It involved emotion more than vision, and it confirmed for me the existence of a higher universal consciousness, which many would call God.
My eyes were closed and the room disappeared as I entered a state of blissful knowing. It was confirmed to me that I was deeply loved and even cherished and that all was well with me and the world. It is extremely difficult now to remember details, if there were details. I can only relate that I felt I was in heaven for the next hour, accompanied by a loving and caring father. This was the confirmation of the reality of our eternal nature, our immortality, that I had been seeking all my life. But more than that, it was a confirmation of our essential goodness, of our own essential role in Godhead. We can never be lost and we are always home, even when we are despairing in life over loss of loved ones or other suffering. I cannot say why we chose to enter this experience of duality out of the oneness which is our home, but I can say that this experience is just that, an experience, not ultimate reality. As is stated at the beginning of A Course in Miracles, nothing real can be threatened, and nothing unreal exists – herein lies the peace of God.
But suffering is quite possible in this sub-reality, and I was to experience my share of it over the next several hours. This is what happened. As I began to come out of my reverie and became once again aware of my surroundings, I heard much suffering. The painful moaning seemed to come from more locations in the darkness and now there was weeping as well. The shaman had kept up his icaros, spiritually nursing the participants along their paths. I felt incredibly strong, safe and secure in my experience. I felt both my animal nature as a fit, vibrant human male as well as my spiritual strength. But the effects of the medicine were fading and I was losing my connection to Godhead. At this moment, the shaman offered, through the translator, to share more medicine with anyone who desired a second dose. I immediately moved over to him and knelt in front of him.
the effects of the medicine were fading and I was losing my connection to Godhead. At this moment, the shaman offered, through the translator, to share more medicine with anyone who desired a second dose. I immediately moved over to him and knelt in front of him.
Once again, he looked at my eyes, holding my gaze as he assessed what I needed. He again seemed satisfied and poured another cup, this time nearly to the top. He blew over it and whispered some words to mother ayahuasca and handed me the cup from both hands, bowing his head slightly as he presented it. I blew over the cup myself before draining it. I nodded to the shaman and returned to my blanket. I attempted to make myself comfortable on the hard floor with the thin blanket. I did not lay down, but sat and focused on my intention. As the audible suffering in the room continued I realized what I would do and I made a conscious commitment to spirit to help those suffering by helping them with their burdens. I thought to spirit, aloud in my head, ‘I can help them with their suffering. I am strong. It’s OK, let me help them with their burden and lighten their load.’ It was true that I felt very strong both physically and spiritually, but I really had no idea what I was getting into. And so it began. My commitment was honored. It seemed as though there was a presence in my mind, in the room, listening to me. It was a pregnant moment, with an air of expectation. Then I sat quietly and waited. This time, I kept my eyes open and observed the room as best I could in the darkness. I tried to remain open to whatever would come.
Slowly, I began to feel miserable. Physically, the hard floor felt like concrete to my bones and flesh. The thin blanket provided no relief. I kneeled with my back straight, committed to whatever would come. I began to feel abandoned and alone. I had an internal sense that I would be required to purge so I began to focus on my gut and my body occasionally emitted quiet groans as the physical misery, both within and without, intensified. By now I had completely forgotten my commitment to assist others with their suffering, and my sense of physical and spiritual strength was utterly gone. I felt weak and alone, shackled with misery that seemed to grow exponentially as the shaman sang his icaros. I began an internal dialogue with the shaman. I alternately begged him to shut the fuck up or at least help me with this horrible crap. It was like I was 10 months pregnant with what I had no idea. I concentrated on my bucket and willed myself to purge, to no avail. I had lost interest in what the others were doing, I was at war with the shaman. Each chant of his icaros seemed to serve to intensify my suffering. He got louder as I stared across the room at his dark form and ordered him to shut it down. I stared with angry eyes, blaming him for my suffering. With each negative thought his voice seemed to respond with a counter that overrode my will. I was losing the contest, badly.
We had been told not to speak to each other during the ceremony. We were to allow each other to experience our path without interruption. Nonetheless, the man to my left, who was seated on a small, tri-legged folding stool, whispered to me. He said, ‘if you take some water in your mouth it can help with the purge. Just take a sip and work it around in your mouth.’ I looked over at his outline in the dark, said ‘thank you’ and picked up my plastic water bottle. I took a sip and held it in my mouth, working it around in an effort to draw the purge up from my gut. I was reconfirming my commitment to do this the right way. My focus through the pain was intense. I accepted the pain but was determined to overcome it, to do the right thing, to finish.
I worked the water around for a few minutes and then swallowed it, with some spilling from my mouth onto my shirt. This immediately felt like a fail. If I swallowed the water it would not help me to purge, and I desperately wanted to purge as I believed this was the key to ending the blackness of suffering. I took another sip but this time determined not to swallow it. I would work it in my mouth until the purge came. As I worked the water around in my mouth, over the teeth, into the left cheek, back over the teeth and tongue, into the right cheek, it began to seem to come to life. After ten minutes it seemed to solidify into something not water. It also seemed to take on its own energy. It seemed to begin to dart around my mouth like the pointer on a Ouija board. It felt alive somehow, and it felt fetid and horrible. It was a horrible, fetid thing inside my mouth and wanted nothing more than to spit it out into my bucket. Fuck the purge, it had to go. But I had committed and I refused. I was at war with this thing. I would not eject it until the purge came. And I did feel like puking, anybody would, but it just would not come.
Just when I thought I couldn’t take it anymore, the shaman stopped singing. Finally! I thought. But he said, ‘now we shall have ten minutes of complete silence.’ WHAAAAT? I hated him then. I hated him with every fiber of my being. He was determined to torture me. I was sure he could feel my ‘fuck you’ from across the room as this bolus of fetid putresence sat in my closed mouth. I whimpered a bit as I settled in to wait. My mouth was quiet and I breathed through my nose as my aching knees and back cried out. I was physically miserable and mentally despairing, but I refused to give in. After the longest ten minutes of my life, he began singing again. Then a word formed in my mind. The word was ‘poultice’. I didn’t think of what the word meant, it simply arrived. It was difficult to believe that this thing in my mouth had begun as water so long ago. I was thinking about how absolutely vile it was and how desperate I was to spit it out, purge or no, and then I had a realization. I was not allowed to spit it out, I was to swallow it. The grossness of this realization cannot be over-stated. The notion alone should have been enough to make me puke, but I knew that was not going to be allowed. Whatever or whoever was directing this show told me to swallow it, so I did. I felt that thing every millimeter down my through, through my esophagus, and into my stomach. And when it hit my stomach, I felt it split up into a dozen different rays of what felt like some demon and shoot into my body in all directions. I felt it happen. And at that moment, several people let out horrified moans of disgust in the room in unison. I had forgotten about them.
at that moment, several people let out horrified moans of disgust in the room in unison. I had forgotten about them.
Apparently there was an audience for my misery. I felt like an abandoned, worthless, disease ridden dog sulking in the corner of a dark alley, hiding from the beatings that marked its hopeless existence. This was not success, this was failure. I hadn’t purged and I would not be allowed to. What in God’s name was I doing?
At this point, someone lit a small candle in the room. I watched the light flicker in the dark. I focused on it. It helped. Only a few people had taken a second dose and people were moving about, apparently leaving. Others were wrapped up to sleep. I wasn’t finished, I knew that. Steve’s face appeared next to me. I told him I didn’t know what to do. He told me with a smile that I’d already done it. That was like a lifeline to me. It gave me some hope. Really, I thought, am I good? Can I stop now? The host shooed him away. ‘Let him do his process’ she said.
The shaman and his assistant, a pretty young lady in her mid-twenties, moved in front of me. She asked me how I was doing. I said I didn’t know, that I felt lost in a wilderness. The shaman lit some tobacco and began blowing it on my, down the back of my shirt, down the front of my shirt, on the top of my head. He shook his rattle around me, chanting. He placed his hands on me. Then he departed back to his space, but the girl stayed with me. She sat in front of me, staring into my eyes. She was helping me, a lifeline in the wilderness.
We stared into each other’s eyes for maybe ten minutes. Then I felt something coming. It was huge. It was too big. I was terrified. I leaned forward onto my knees, hands on the floor, and I felt it coming from my toes as the muscles in my toes and feet contracted like they were progressively cramping, tighter and tighter. It came from my extremities towards my center. I felt every single muscle in my body contract consecutively, from feet and hands, calves and forearms, biceps and quads, chest and glutes, all the way into my torso. When the contraction reached my gut and lungs a howl broke, rushing out of my lungs until it felt like my lungs were collapsed, crushed. For me it was the howl of all howls; the howl of suffering. It was like a live thing being torn out of my body. The shaman rushed over to me along with our host, concern apparent in eyes and faces. Then it ripped out of me again as my body did another violent contraction. How can I survive this? I thought. Then it was over. I was done. Whatever had happened, it was finished.
The shaman escorted me to the bathroom and told me to put water on my face. He waited by the door as I did. I looked into the mirror, wondering who that lost soul was staring back. I stumbled back out and he took my elbow and walked me back to my blanket. I sat down jerkily. Most people were now asleep or gone. Steve and I were to return to our motel room, but our host insisted that I would not leave. ‘He will stay here tonight’ and that was that. They wrapped me in several more blankets against the November desert night and I laid there, eyes open towards the circular ceiling, wonder what had happened but grateful it was over.
The next morning I took a walk with the translator up the long dirt driveway in the cold morning air. The sun was shining, and while I was relieved that it was over, I wondered what I had done that night. What had been accomplished? What was the point? I asked for her interpretation and she said she felt that I was working with my own family, maybe ancestors. This confused me as I had believed I was committing to helping those present at the ceremony with their suffering. How did my own family get involved?
We returned from the walk and re-entered the building. There I met a participant from the previous night, a woman who asked me, ‘Are you Dan? Are you the one who had ‘the experience’ last night?’ She said she had information for me and I eagerly asked what it was. I was still desperate to give the suffering meaning. This is what she said. She told me that in her life she was a medical doctor, a physician. She had a practice in Arizona. She had been to the Peruvian Amazon for ayahuasca ceremonies. She had participated in over a dozen. She told me that while sometimes she had revelatory experiences, she was just drifting last night until my experience began, at which point she said she committed to helping me through it. She poured her focus onto my experience. She said it was like helping me give birth. I was struck by that reference. While I cannot know what the experience of giving human birth is like it certainly seemed to me that the contractions were forcing something out of me. That something was so huge I recall being certain that my throat could not accommodate it on the way out. Also, the physical pain of the process was amazing. So the analogy carried weight.
The good doctor told me that from across the room, in the darkness, it was like she was watching a movie over my head. She witnessed moving scenes of people in bondage, walking in misery, single file, in manacles or shackles. She said that she believed those people were my people – my clan. And she witnessed me laboring to take that suffering from them, alleviating their pain. She said that she witnessed me converting the darkness of their suffering into light. She said I was like a portal through which their suffering was transmuted. She said she believed that they would never know what I had done for them, but that it was the one of the two biggest things she had ever experienced or witnessed at an ayahuasca ceremony – from darkness to creating light in the universe.
My fear had been that the suffering was pointless. For one, I had no sense of accomplishment from the experience, just relief that it was over. Then the word came back to me; poultice – a soft, moist mass of material applied to the body to relieve soreness and inflammation. Maybe she was right. I had made a deep commitment to help with their suffering. I just didn’t know the suffering would be that of my own family.
I went back for the second night, committed to see the two-ceremony process to completion. Several people were surprised I had returned, as was I. After we received the medicine I sat quietly. I had a sense that this was they black magic referred to in ancient times. The shaman this night seemed to me a technician. He could have worn a lab coat. It seemed less spiritual and more mechanistic. I have no idea why. But when the two Native Americans who were present the second night began to struggle I was moved to offer to help with that suffering. Luckily, before I made that commitment, I thought better. It was a mother and daughter, and the mother began moaning, ‘What are you doing to us? Why are you doing this to us?’ There was fear in her voice and I thought of the massive suffering of the Native Americans and shuddered to think of the work that might entail. Eventually the two were led outside and did not return. Once as poultice was enough for me.
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