Citation: Pillow Snake. "Slapped By The Hand Of God: An Experience with Ayahuasca (exp114471)". Erowid.org. Jun 11, 2020. erowid.org/exp/114471
In a valley on the coast of a Hawaiian island, I took ayahuasca for the first time. I had been curious about psychedelics for a long time, and I had extensive experience with almost all of them. My experiences with smoked DMT led me to ayahuasca.
The first time I smoked DMT, I felt as though the drug was communicating with me, answering my questions and “showing” me glimpses of the Truth. I also felt an incredibly powerful fear of death, as well as the sensation that I was actually dying. It was terrifying, and beautiful, with a dimension to it that I had never before experienced in my psychedelic explorations.
Every time I have smoked DMT since, I have had a similar experience- a terrible fear, combined with the sensation of bodily death, as well as overwhelming beauty. It was like being shot from a cannon into a terrible and beautiful alien realm, and then yanked back before I had a chance to get my bearings. I wanted to spend more time there, to experience it more fully. This was the main impetus behind my decision to try ayahuasca.
I had met a few people who had taken it, and, as I learned more about the drug, I met more and more people who had “been there”. Their tales of communion with a mysterious force, of experiencing their own births and deaths, and re-experiencing trauma in a positive way only stoked my fires of curiosity.
Several options to try ayahuasca presented themselves, but none of them really worked out or fully appealed to me. They were of the “fly a shaman up from Peru, shell out $900, and spend a 3 day weekend at a rented venue” variety. All of my previous psychedelic experiences had been more of the DIY type, more exploratory and experimental than ceremonial or regimented, and I wanted to keep it that way
my previous psychedelic experiences had been more of the DIY type, more exploratory and experimental than ceremonial or regimented, and I wanted to keep it that way
Shortly after moving to Hawaii, I learned that both of the plants that comprise ayahuasca grow there, and my desire was cemented. I decided I would find the plants, brew the potion, and take ayahuasca once in Hawaii. And the option to do so presented itself rather quickly. The first place my girlfriend and I stayed on the island was a small homestead out in the jungle. The woman who owned the farm, “Shakti”, introduced us to her friend, “Sam”, a camouflage-wearing island boy who seemed totally at home in the jungle. I mentioned my desire to find the ayahuasca vine, and Sam offered to take me to his friend’s cabin. There, he said, I would find both of the plants needed to brew the ayahuasca, and his friend could teach me how.
It was on. That weekend, we loaded up my truck and made the trek to a remote coastal valley. Even getting there was a rowdy adventure, at one point having to forsake the road and drive up a quickly flowing, 2 foot deep river. His friend, who I will refer to as “Yoda” greeted us and we introduced ourselves. The cabin was an open-air jungle bungalow, surrounded by rare tropical fruit trees from all over the world. The week passed quickly, with me getting an introduction to jungle life. I learned how to catch prawns with a spear and a headlamp. I learned which of the bizarre tropical fruits were tastiest, and how to test them for ripeness. We bathed in pools at the foot of huge, cascading waterfalls and gorged on rambutan and jaboticaba. He also introduced us to the plants. Specifically, to the ayahuasca vine (banisteriopsis caapi) and the dmt-containing tree (chacruna). I spent some time with the plants, touching them, sketching them, and thanking them for their bodies and the chemicals contained within.
We harvested what seemed like an enormous amount of both the vine and the tree. We pruned the tree back significantly, and plucked the individual leaves off the stems. This yielded approximately half an industrial trash bag of leaf matter. We cut many sections of the vine, too, and then chopped them into 3-foot chunks. These created a pile that filled most of a tarp.
The next day, we pounded the sections of vine with a heavy Koa wood baton until they were a pile of slender fibers and bark. We filled 3 10-gallon pots with both plants, alternating between layers of leaf and vine. We packed everything extremely tight into these pots, and then filled 2 of them to the brim with water. We put them on large propane burners, and heated them up. The rest of the day was spent painstakingly keeping the temperature of the water right below boiling. I spent well into the AM hours sitting by the pots, making sure they steamed but didn’t boil, stirring them with a specially prepared ayahuasca stick.
The next morning, we combined the chocolate colored liquid and dumped it into the third pot, where we further reduced the liquid. At the end of that day, we poured all of the dark brown liquid into a clean pot, and turned up the heat. We boiled the ayahuasca for several hours, until it had reduced significantly and was now a thick, deep chocolate brown potion. All of this yielded a couple of quarts of what Yoda assured me would be a particularly potent brew.
In the past few years I had pushed my limits when it came to psychedelics, taking 7+ grams of mushrooms at a sitting, trying to see how deep I could delve into myself. My main goal (I tried not to have it be an expectation) of these journeys was to experience annihilation. I had always read of people’s experiences with “Ego Death” and feeling the dissolution of the boundaries of the self, and I wanted to go there too. My sense of self always remained intact, which was somewhat frustrating to me. I learned much from these explorations, but I always managed to hold onto myself. I think part of my curiosity about ayahuasca was the feeling that it, if anything could, would melt down the boundaries between “me” and “the world”. And boy, was I right.
I took the brew several weeks later. Our DIY ayahuasca retreat consisted of myself, Sam, Shakti, and several of her friends. Our facilitator, Q, was a Native American woman with what seemed like a fair amount of plant medicine experience. She did not take the brew, but watched over us and was intended to be a guardian and a sober helper if things got dicey.
I have heard that, in more traditional ayahuasca ceremonies, there is a fairly strict preparation that is prescribed. Restricted foods, no sex for a week before, etc. Since this was not a traditional ceremony, I prepared in the way that appealed to me. I spent time by myself every day for the week before the ceremony, meditating and trying to clarify my intention. I ate a small, simple meal on the day of the ceremony, and stayed away from my phone. I thought that my preparations were sufficient, and I felt ready. I had no idea what was in store for me.
My intention was primarily exploratory, but I had a few specific questions I particularly wanted to focus on. One was quite vague, concerning the nature of reality and how consciousness is contained. The other was more personal, concerning my own purpose and path through life, seeking some guidance or perspective on some decisions.
My girlfriend, “Saranya”, who has been my companion on many other psychedelic voyages, decided to sit this one out. Her DMT experiences and personal spiritual beliefs led her to believe that ayahuasca would be a very intense and difficult experience for her. She said she would stay at our house, which was at the end of the property, but that she would be there if I needed anything. I kissed her goodbye, and walked up the long winding path that led to the main lawn.
We all gathered at 1 in the afternoon and got acquainted. We prepared our space, laying yoga mats and blankets around the lawn in the shade of trees. We discussed our personal intentions, and took the medicine. I had asked Yoda how much I should ingest to have an “extreme” experience, and he told me 4 days ounces would certainly be enough. Most people there took 2 1.5 oz shots, with myself and jungle boy adding a third- so 4.5 ounces total. I have always had a high tolerance to psychedelics, and I really wanted to make sure I gave myself a powerful dose. I wanted to jump into the deep end of the pool and see if I could swim. Bad idea. This wasn’t the pool, this was the ocean.
We sat, chatting pleasantly, and someone put on some music. Some sort of Indian sitar-droning spiritual music. Beautiful, in its own way, but I wasn't feeling it. I wanted a little more solitude, so I went and sat in the shade of an orange tree. I crossed my legs, feeling the sensations of earth and grass below me. I started to notice the great diversity of grass that I was sitting on. All the different types, the shapes of the blades and stems. All the different kinds of seed pods. The colors. The tiny flowers. I was taken aback by the diversity that was held even in this, a tiny patch of an average lawn. I felt a deep respect for life, the plant kingdom especially. I quietly thanked them for harvesting the sun and forming the basis of every food chain on earth. I thanked them for their alkaloids, which were beginning to course through my blood. I felt waves coming on, the tidal pull of some strange power.
By now, others had started to break away from the main group and make their way to their mats. A woman “Carol” came and lay down on the blanket next to me. She had only taken a small amount, as she had some health issues. She was already feeling it, hard. She started to purge, and it sounded painful. I was already being overtaken by geometric nets of golden thread, and I nuzzled into my mat, my limbs heavy. My thoughts drifted from place to place, and the sensations in my body increased. The sky was cloudy, and at times I couldn’t tell if the sun was shining or not.
Carol started having a hard time. She said, softly at first, but then more insistently, “help me”. I thought that Q was right next to her, so I concentrated on my own internal experience.
I thought that Q was right next to her, so I concentrated on my own internal experience.
I drifted through feelings, through joys and anxieties, feeling weightless and free to drift around my inner landscape. Carol continued to call out, and I looked up to see Q heading over to us from across the yard. I felt a wave of confusion and shame that I had not helped her, since I was the one closest to her. Things for Carol got worse, as she spun out into panic. She said things like “I need this to stop”, “help me”, and “you’re not fucking helping me!”, alternately whispering and shouting.
I heard, or perhaps hallucinated, her partner and Q talking in hushed voices, something about Carol needing to see a doctor, that this wasn’t normal. I had begun to purge at that point too, retching up big mouthfuls of mud-brown plant juice.
It was all too much. My experience was getting so incredibly intense, and I had to get to safety. Saranya. With as much calm as I could muster, I looked up at Q. I said “I’m going to find my girlfriend. She’s down there”. After I convinced her that I could walk myself down there, Q let me go. Pulling off the 50–yard walk through the trees to our house felt like a huge accomplishment. The house came into view, and my girlfriend was already at the door, pulling on a dress. Somehow, she knew I was coming. I said “Help. I need help.” And then collapsed on the grass in front of our porch. I tried to vomit, but couldn’t. I tried to fill her in on the situation, but couldn’t communicate much. I remember feeling like we were the only two humans on the planet, an Adam and Eve situation, and asking her to marry me. I remember asking her if we were going to have children, and that’s pretty much the last thing I remember.
I was laying on the grass next to our porch, and all I could do was thrash. I remember ripping up grass with my fingers, feeling bad for killing it but also reveling in the life-taking power of my hands. Creation and destruction, Life and Death, became one. I felt everything, all at once, and it was beautiful and terrible. I remember begging my girlfriend for death, saying “too much! It’s too much!” Death was constantly on my mind, the flip side of life, and I remember feeling that it was the only escape. Sex was the creative force, death the destructive, and I remember wanting both equally.
I lost track of what was “me”. I thought that my girlfriend and I were the same thing. I was all of life, every living thing, and I felt the improbability of anything existing at all. And I felt the pain of life, the great tearing rending pain that is implicit in being alive. It was alternately too beautiful to look at and too terrible to comprehend. I had finally “done it”, gotten to that place I had searched for. Ego death. The annihilation of the self. And it was all too much.
At a certain point, I became aware that I had a body again. I saw that I was alone, laying there on the grass. With great effort, I sat up, and looked for Saranya. She was inside, and came out when she saw I was “back”. She looked rattled. I tried to hug her but she pulled away. I asked her what had happened to me. I remembered so little.
Apparently, I was gone for over 3 hours. Completely, absolutely gone. She had to sit on me to keep me calm. I was thrashing around, tearing up grass and shoving it into my mouth. Eating dirt too, eating anything I could find to put in my mouth. I scratched at my face and eyes, and stomped my feet so much that there was a “snow angel” shape smashed into the dirt where my legs had been. My feet were covered in mud.
I had said things, crazy things. At first, it had been cute, proclamations of love for her, talking about friends that I missed. Then, at a certain point, it got dark. I began obsessing about death, mine and others’. I asked over and over how I was going to die. I begged for her to kill me. I began saying I wanted to have sex with various people, and also that I wanted to kill them. I would mention someone that I loved, family or friend, and then babble about having sex with them or killing them or both. Apparently, I also said I wanted to eat people, and asked Saranya if she would eat me. I have a dim recollection of that, feeling like if she ate me then we would be truly one thing, as I felt we were. I then pleaded with her, again, to kill me.
I carried on like this for almost 3 hours, I am told. A constant babbling monologue of pain, sex, and death.
I carried on like this for almost 3 hours, I am told. A constant babbling monologue of pain, sex, and death.
To my girlfriend's credit, she stayed with me for 2 or so of those hours, kept me from clawing my eyes out, and trying to keep me calm. She tried to keep me quiet, too, when I was shrieking about killing and she was worried others might hear. After a couple of hours, she left when my macabre ranting got to be too much for her. She sat nearby and checked on me occasionally to make sure I hadn’t found anything dangerous.
Coming back into myself after such a strange experience was bumpy. Especially coming back to find that I had said such disturbing things... I immediately felt a terrible sense of shame. I felt that I must be truly twisted to harbor such a dark side. At this point, still high but coming rapidly back to baseline consciousness, I grappled with the memory of where I had just been. It was such a dark whirlwind, of rapidly shifting emotions, revelations coming at me so quickly I couldn’t possibly process them. The experience defied language, defied classification. It was especially hard to comprehend because it didn’t feel like it happened to me, as there was no clearly defined “me” when it had happened. Coming back from this perspective was the most confusing and chaotic experience of my psychedelic life.
I went back to the group and layed on the grass briefly, contemplating the clouds, still reeling. Everything was peaceful. Carol had made it out of her panic and was fine. I checked in with our shamaness briefly, before sneaking back to our hut. I had my girlfriend relate to me again the things that I had said, the way I had been. She spared no detail, and I could see how badly I had scared her. Filled with self-loathing, I couldn’t help but cry. I entered into the trip hoping for inspiration and clarity, but came back to a shit show of my own making. I was shocked, after so many psychedelic experiences I had felt totally confident in my mental fortitude. At least, confident that I wasn’t the type of person to totally lose the plot and say horrible, scary things. Yet I returned to find out I had said some of the most horrible and scary things imaginable.
I count myself lucky to have such an understanding partner. If she hadn’t known me as well as she did, or know psychedelics as well as she did, this would have probably destroyed our relationship. But instead, she held me while I cried and told me to be kind to myself.
I went back to the group, who had moved to the main building and convened for dinner. Everyone shared their experiences, and I told mine, glossing over the gnarliest parts. Everyone had had a rough go of it. Everyone reported feelings of fear, pain, and impending doom, but had been able to move through it. I quickly ate, excused myself and went back to my hut, burdened with the shame of all the things I didn’t want to talk about.
I tossed and turned all night, kept up by the full moon and my thoughts. I am a very level person, and this completely knocked me down. I felt tender and raw, and truly hated myself for what I had said.
The next day, I reached out to a friend who had recently done a more traditional ayahuasca ceremony with the aid of a shaman. She helped me make sense of my experience, comparing it to hers and others she had seen.
She compared it to a biblical story, in which people were exposed to the sight of the hand of god. Apparently, the hand was too beautiful and terrible to comprehend, and the tiniest glimpse of it turned them into pillars of salt. She suggested that perhaps some experiences are too intense to be directly dealt with, and that I had retreated into my most primitive self in order to deal with what was happening to me. She also told me I was lucky to have come back so quickly. That, after an experience like that, some people are lost for a long time.
A lot of what she said rang true for me, and upon looking into others’ ayahuasca experiences, I see that mine was not an unheard-of reaction. Once I saw that things between my girlfriend and I were not badly damaged, I started to forgive myself. I swam in the ocean that evening at sunset, and began to reflect on the beauty of what had been shown to me. There was an incredible gift there, and I will be unpacking this experience for years to come.
I will be unpacking this experience for years to come.
I would urge anyone seeking this jungle medicine to be extremely cautious. I thought I was cautious enough, but I was wrong. I thought my previous psychedelic experience had prepared me, but I was wrong. I thought I could keep it together, wrong again. I found my limit.
Ayahuasca is a very different animal from other psychedelics, and should be treated as such. I would urge anyone to be cautious about how much they take, and who they take it with. If I had said those things around anyone but my partner, it could have been much worse. An experienced guide or practitioner would have been a good idea as well. Like auto repair and dentistry, I think ancient shamanic drugs are something perhaps best done with the aid of a professional. There is immense power there, though, and I will certainly try again in a better context.
I am very grateful for the experience I had, the good and the bad. I saw and felt things beyond my wildest dreams.
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