Citation: Marisa S.. "The Resolute Path of the Root Chakra: An Experience with Ayahuasca (exp85981)". Erowid.org. Jul 8, 2010. erowid.org/exp/85981
This account is merely a sampling of all that occurred over two very intense weeks at a Shamanic Retreat’s Grand Opening in Peru. A whole book would do justice to this incredible adventure, but for now, please enjoy this glimpse into a the retreat’s complex world.
“So you’re gonna drink tonight, right? If you want to drink it has to be tonight. You’re drinking tonight,” Rob says without a pause, with wide, child-like eyes and a beaming grin.
This is what greets me instead of a hello, nice to meet-cha, as soon as I step out of the mini-bus and into, literally, red, muddy soil. I will soon learn that this is classic Rob-style: cut to the chase, no frills, here’s the agenda and now let’s get on with it shall we, I’ve got no time for questions.
“Uh, OK, let me think about it, I mean I would like to, but, uh, I guess I hadn’t quite considered it just yet.”
“Oh no, you have to drink tonight tonight. Don’t worry about teaching yoga tomorrow, we’ll figure all that out later,” Rob replies from a half turn as he heads away. Despite Rob’s near constant enthusiasm, I can already sense some tension. And no doubt, there’s reason for tension. He’s juggling A LOT – hosting a group of international travelers who constantly flux from 30 to 60 guests at a time, plus a Hollywood film crew, the rule of the shaman, guest speakers such as metaphysical and enthnobotanical pioneers and authors, and the care of a wife and young son, all in a space that is still physically under construction and in a remote Amazon location. Rob’s noble intent is to facilitate a transformative experience for all, and he seems to have chosen the hard way. The man has a full plate, to say the least.
I’ve come to the grand opening of the retreat, a sprawling retreat located outside of a small jungle-town in Peru to teach yoga for this eclectic group of seekers, many from the Burner/Festival scene around the world, but also middle-class North Americans that you would more easily peg for singing in a church choir before you’d even think to imagine them willfully ingesting, then purging, a hallucinogen in the depths of the Amazon. We are artists, scientists, writers, computer technicians & designers, government employees, wanderers, wall street brokers, marketing specialists, engineers, counselors, entrepreneurs and community organizers, both young and old, and from across the globe. Tattooed, dreaded and pierced to clean-shaven and freshly showered, tie-dyed to tucked-in, we reflected the rainbow spectrum of personalities, and our outer contrasts and match-ups as just as intense as our internal resonances.
I had hoped to teach meditation as well, but Maestro, as the shaman is called here, is against it. We’re lucky he’s even allowing yoga, for he’s made it very clear in conversations that have trickled down through the grape vine that he believes yoga, and all other forms of spirituality and/or philosophy, are empty, that they are something us Westerns use to cloud our perceptions and thus inhibit “real” progress on the path of awakening. Yoga, and yoga teachers in particular, are looked down upon because they go against his belief structure (though he’ll espouse he’s beyond having any beliefs) which centers around a DYI, I don’t give a fuck you pansy, learn to survive on your own mentality.
According to Maestro, yoga, like an ayahausca ceremony, is form of “comfort therapy” which gets in the way of our evolution as a species. To evolve, we must plunge headlong and alone, into the abyss of our fears, only then may we reemerge like the phoenix from the fire through the courage of our homegrown personal power. I can respect that point of view for sure, but my own ways of eliciting transformation are much more gentle. I am hoping that they Maestro can come to see yoga as complimentary to his work…and allow for my safe passage home without shooting any darts in me.
From my passion for yoga as a complete tool for Self-awakening, to my graduate education in transpersonal psychology and my time working in the field of substance abuse and counseling, I have a strong desire to assist individuals, and groups, in realizing their highest potential. I know theoretically, and from my own experiences, that plant medicines can be a catalyst for awareness and elicit growth of lasting change.
Despite red flags and risks, I felt compelled to join a journey that would challenge my skills and beliefs, both personally and professionally. Also feeling that the retreat’s opening was not a guaranteed success on many levels, I felt a greater pull to attend, to bring grounding and light to an environment that I intuited was to be quite intense for the participants. My call to duty was for the people who were attending because I saw yoga as being able to provide a powerful balance: after being rocketed into other dimensions of mind and spirit, how better to connect to present reality than through movement and breath?
Being firmly committed to my role as a yoga instructor, a teacher of union, I was very settled with the idea that I might not be doing ceremony at the retreat. I didn’t want to have an aya hangover that would keep me from being able to be of highest service to all. At the same time, I thought doing ceremony in Maestro’s Chavin style would better prepare me for empathizing with those I’d be sharing these two adventurous weeks with. Eight years prior I had drunk ayahuasca with a Santo Daime group in Florida, whose collective and focused singing and dancing ritualistic imbibing of ayahuasca was in stark contrast to Maestro’s solo and silent approach, and I was curious. I was open but not expecting.
Now, the mere thought of writing the words “drinking the ayahuasca brew” just sent a rush of shivers through my body and a verbal wretch from my mouth. This rank fluid, this teacher of the Mother/Source/Self, still has its hold on me.
In the end, I drank twice over two weeks at the Shamanic Retreat.
Drinking that first night, after nearly two days of traveling, not sleeping or eating well, and with only a couple of hours to decompress in my new surroundings, went surprisingly well. I am what you could call a lightweight and drugs hit me strong. In college I had to stop smoking pot, because I had been trying to keep up with my boyfriend who smoked like he was breathing air, and had begun to have panic attacks. My mind would go too far too fast, and instead of mellowing me out like it did my comrades, it made me want to hide under the kitchen table until my mind stopped connecting so many dots. And ever since the age of 15 when I took LSD for the first time I had been cautious with hallucinogens. Completely freaking out for 8 hours because I thought I had died gave me an embodied respect for the power of psychedelics and I was never drawn to taking them just to play. Needless to say, I was cautious…but trusting enough to go for it.
Perhaps some will find it strange that I had no sense of fear about drinking a repulsive mind altering brew and then being left in the jungle over night to survive the purge and plunder alone. At least, I didn’t have fear in the logistical-insurance-claim-sense of “what if I get eaten by a jaguar or bitten by a deadly spider or squeezed to death by an anaconda or choke on my own vomit.” Those sort of thoughts don’t often come into my field of concern (much to the maddening chagrin of my western medicine physician partner), and this may be neglectful on my part, but I have a fairly solid awareness that I AM, and am therefore taken care of. Again, this may be totally naive, but I have a great amount of trust that everything works out precisely as it should. Merely hoping I wouldn’t freak-out in an all too public of a manor did I relax into participating in ceremony, a ceremony unlike any of my previous experiences or held biases.
Having reportedly journeyed on the cactus san pedro over 6,000 times since the age of eight, and a mere 3,000 times on ayahuasca, Maestro is obvious about his preference for the cactus. Ayahausca is his red-headed stepchild and Maestro is transparent about his distain for the rituals surrounding ayahuasca, referring to the traditional singing of icaros, or sacred songs, as nothing more than a small therapy (like yoga or meditation). To him, these therapies us Westerns needed to get over. “You’re too coddled, there’s too much hand-holding, and you’re too attached to comfort. You need to do this alone, when you go back home, there will be no one there to guide you but yourself. This is about learning to survive,” he firmly tells the group through a translator, like a detached general. There is no softness in his expression, energy or words. He is pure masculine “shamachismo,” and this is his Chavin Warrior Bootcamp. No sympathy or nurturing. Maestro could care less what came up during your journey, regardless of how horrific or beautiful or life altering it may have been.
I can see where he is coming from for sure. A core component of Buddhism is the idea of walking the path, or sitting on your zafu, by yourself; that no one can change you from the outside, it must come from strength within. But still, what about at least a little bit of initial guidance through these uncharted realms before pushing us out of the nest and into the jaguar’s gaping mouth? I know Maestro doesn’t want to be a guru, but wouldn’t it perhaps speed up this process of Self-discovery if we at least had a tour of the area first before being abandoned?
Anyways, I agreed to be dropped in the middle of nowhere, and drank. Sitting in a circle of 15-odd strangers, Maestro watched over the drinking of the coffee-cup sized mugs of his putrid potion. Imagine the rot of hell in liquid form – this was Maestro’s ayahuasca. I had trouble finishing because I was afraid I might puke before leaving the ceremony room. Maestro saw me holding my cup when he was about to begin his short round of singing and spoke, not making eye contact with me, but nodding in my general direction. Rob translated that I had to finish. “Just hold your nose and swallow it down. Do it fast.” Taking a deeeeep breath and letting out a long, rumbling belch, I plugged my nose and took one final gulp. A wave of nausea vibrated through every layer of my being and I closed my eyes. Just hold yourself together a little while longer, Marisa.
A novice with a fast metabolism and a rather tender belly, the brew began to tighten its hold on me as soon as I started to walk with the group down the steps to the jungle, where we would be filtered to our individual tents for the night. Here we go again, I thought as we started descending and my mind began to slowly come apart at the seams. I felt as if we were in an MC Escher painting and the stairs would twist back upon themselves into infinity; there was no end or beginning. Just breath, you’re OK. A third of the ways down the 30-foot climb I could contain the impulse no longer. Stepping out of line I braced myself against the corners of a wall, and without a hint of vanity or pride, I vomited loud and long. A sense of relief settled into my foundation and I finished the descent.
I reached the jungle floor just as dusk was turning to darkness. Fully in the grip of hallucinations by then, the thick forest breathed with the vibrant glow of black-light magic. This is just like the movie Avatar. I could simultaneously see and feel through the veil of ‘normal’ consciousness to the interconnection of ALL. In a state of total amazement and wonder, I was lead to my tent platform.
Lying on the foam mattress I turned to look out the screened opening of the tent. I’m not sure now whether my eyes were open or closed. Another deep sense of relief. It felt good to be alone, to be still and for the silence, not counting the growing chorus of frogs, insects and machine elves.
The peak brought me to the Source of Being. The face of a female deity, large and hovering, made of swirling geometric patterns and neon pinks, greens and blue, welcomed me home. Oh yeah, I’m here. I’ve followed my symbols, my clues, and the scent of myself, back to my Self. I remember now. It’s all the One. I am the One. Life is a game of make-believe, where I forget the aloneness of the One through splintering into fragments of self-illusion, only to eventually remember again. I’ve remembered before and will forget again, and on and on…
Spiraling in and out of knowing and being One, I let go into aya’s embrace. Near sunrise I unzipped my tent and gradually made my way back to the world above.
The next day more travelers arrived. Without any sort of formal opening, welcome or introduction for the group and to the group, it was difficult to know who was who and who had the role of seeker, worker, or both. Some came and went so quickly that others would mention them and I found I didn’t have the faintest idea who they were talking about. I would see familiar faces around but not have time, or make the time, to connect with them to even know their name until more than a week together.
The amenities at the retreat were over the top in some areas, like having the incredible Chef and his lovely assistants creating delicious fare for every meal, to having two talented massage therapists, available to give everyone a massage at no cost, to sponsoring a crystal-wrap-jeweler extraordinaire to come to Peru and give everyone a quartz and ruby pendant, to taking the whole crazy lot of us, Maestro and grounds-workers and all, to a nearby pool for Rob’s birthday (a much welcomed break from the sweltering heat!), or how at mid-stay they brought our sweat and mud caked clothes into town to be laundered. These are only a few gracious highlights. It was obvious Rob was really trying to make sure everyone have an incredible time.
And then other elements of the retreat, like have no hot water (but who would want it anyways in 95 degree weather?), or no electricity in any of the rooms, and certainly not in “Tent City,” to other details like never being sure if you could drink aya or eat san pedro that night or either and when, or any clear schedule for talks with Maestro or by the guest speakers, this lack of clarity all made the retreat feel to me to be in a constant state of chaos. I felt an underlying shadow of uncertainty that I couldn’t shake. Maybe this is what happens when the North meets the South and the Amazon and New York City try to join forces. No doubt there will be some rough transitions as these worlds merge for the first time.
This shadow of uncertainty was also present in the participants, which could be divided into three camps: Those who loved Maestro and believed in everything he and Rob were doing, Those whose thought Rob had been brainwashed by Maestro who was a brujo, and Those who fluctuated between the two. I belonged to the latter camp. The environment felt like a battlefield between the Light and Dark, but never with any outbursts exploding on the surface, just a constant seismic rumbling.
For myself, coming from a place centered on merging the Divine Feminine with the Sacred Masculine, in a role of guiding others to relax and let go through the arts of yoga and meditation, and of seeing love as the ultimate reality, I certainly had moments of What the F*$#? when it came to Maestro’s methods and teachings. Yet having read most of Steve Beyer’s book Singing to the Plants, I was very aware that the real South American shaman is not what we Westerns consider our stereotypical “healers.” There is no love, no Woo-Woo, or compassion. Their task is to get the job done and they could care less how good or comfortable you feel. Their work had nothing to do with feelings.
Indeed, when asked about love, Maestro’s unflinching response was that “Love is a necessary evil” for the unevolved human. He sees the goal as getting to a place without the need for the philosophy of love, which is far beyond words and emotions. His personal responsibility is one of creating the “humans of the future” who are free from the spell of these terms. Without “love” do I even want to be one of these “humans of the future”?
While I was grappling with these thoughts, a resistance was mounting among The Maestro is a Brujo camp. They wanted a new shaman to come to the retreat and hold ceremony, they wanted to stay together instead being banished to the jungle alone, they wanted icaros to be sung the whole night, and they wanted an experience that felt contained and safe and nurturing. Maestro agreed to their demands.
Two nights before the end of the retreat a local shaman, who I was told Rob had found while walking in the jungle, was brought in to sing and hold the space for the group of brave ayahuascateers. I wanted to experience this new dynamic and decided to drink again.
As the sun went down, close to thirty of us packed into the ceremony center. I sat near the beginning of the circle, among those who would drink first because I knew it would take me the longest to get the vile solution to settle in my belly. Due to the dark blanket of night, Maestro was unable to see that I still had my half-full cup in hand when he began to shake his rattle, but I could still feel pressure to gitrdone. Don’t be a wuss! You have to drink it all. I can’t! I feel like I’m going to puke already. If you don’t this will be a waste and you won’t even have an experience. Ugh, OK fine, I’ll take a few more sips. I lifted the cup to my lips and swallowed as much as I could, still not finishing the glass. My body convulsed forward as I forced the murky aya to stay down. That’s enough. There’s no way I can do anymore. I set the cup down next to my chair and closed my eyes.
Maestro spoke and Rob translated. “He says you must go into your fears. You must go into them, alone, and move through them.” OK, into my fears (deep breath), I can do that.
Maestro’s chanting and rattling trembled through me. Shit, not now, this is too soon. Within but a few minutes I felt myself lifting off. I feared I wouldn’t be able to make it outside, where our mattresses that had been brought up from the jungle now created a circle in the plaza. Fear arose in me and I held on. I wanted to stay connected to this reality. I wasn’t ready to let go yet, but it was too late to slow down the unraveling.
I began to faintly hum and sway as a way to stay grounded in my body. Not soon enough Maestro stood to lead us outside, where the new shaman awaited with his icaros. One of the last things I remember is the slight break in my anxiety as I laid back on my mattress and watched the grey clouds silhouetted on the night sky bleed into each other.
And then my mind went into hyper drive as I plunged into the abysmal depths of my being for over 5 hours. The only clear moment of Marisa-self awareness came somewhere halfway through my voyage of despair when I purged. Being so far gone, I had no Oh, I think I might need to puke I better get my bucket handy thought. Without any sort of warning I sat bolt upright like a jack-in-the-box just released from its cell, and vomited all down the front of my body. Down my chest, all over my blanket, legs, face and in my hair, I was covered in the foulest of foul fluids. As I briefly surveyed the mess, my only thought was ‘At least this is just a hallucination and didn’t really happen ‘cause that would totally suck.’ A few hours later, shivering, wet, sticky and covered in the sweet-sour-putrid-stink of aya-vomit, I realized I hadn’t been so lucky.
Around midnight, when I had regained enough self-awareness that I could stand my condition no longer, I stumbled to one of the shared showers for a cold, dark cleanse of my being.
Jon Levin, in a video retelling called First Ayahuasca Experience, described the next day best when he said “I felt as if I had been shredded by a rusty cheese grater and reassembled and glued back together with my own spit…if ayahuasca teaches you anything, its that you are stronger than you think you are…you live through it and you realize, ‘Wow, I can handle that.” It took me a while to come to any “teaching” aspect of the experience. Rather I found myself deep in an existential crisis.
My journey had reminded me of the complete and utter meaninglessness of all of existence, besides the meaning that we give it. Where before I could understand that and feel confidence and purpose in the thought of the individual giving life its significance, now I felt cheated, like I had truly wanted all of this matter to matter for something, and in the end didn’t. I felt that the cosmos had held me naked and upside down by my feet, pointing and laughing with a big Fuck You at all I held to be true and sacred.
I felt foolish and alone and completely empty. On top of that, I began to get asked, “Marisa, why were you crying out for help last night? Who were you talking to?” While to me, I retreated to the innermost recesses of my being, I was blabbing up a storm to the rest of the group. Turns out that poor Marcelo from Brazil had spent a good amount of energy shouting “Silencio!” at me before becoming aware that I was gone, baby, gone. Not having any conscious memory of my external actions from the night before only distressed me further.
Leaving a breakfast I was only pushing around my plate, and choking back tears, I found a perch on the jungle cliff and bawled. I cried for my nothingness. I felt a complete loss of my personal power. Where before I had at least a sense, how ever false, of who I was and what life was about, now I felt like what’s even the point, why bother at all, life is just an elaborate sham. This saddened me through my core.
Finally, Taka, a soul-brother I had come to resonate with over the past weeks, asked to join me. Wiping tears and snot along the back of my arm I nodded. I don’t recall his exact words anymore, but he was able to slowly bring me back to myself through his care and compassion. In a short exchange, he began to give me back my meaning. Not all of it, but enough to get a foot out of the muck of self-pity, and join the others who were going to the local school just a few miles down the road to paint and clean.
Service, karma yoga, doing for others without expectation, and openhearted generosity began to restore me even further. Seeing the joy on the school children’s faces as we came together to make their surroundings better, I felt the pieces of me returning. What more in life do you really need than smiling children?
Thinking of my own young daughter and loving partner also reconnected me to my meaning. As I began to feel again did I gradually regain heart. I now saw the world from an expanded focus, as if being blown apart caused my peripheral vision to expand and include more of my real self, shadow and all. I have a greater patience and compassion with my fellow travelers of this hapless journey we cling to and call life.
Though it was an intense and rough ride for me, the night of the group ceremony was like all the other nights at the retreat: the gamut of experiences were present. Some were worse off than me, like Joey who was ripped so far out of his psych that he spent the night wailing, convulsing and hitting himself, who the next day still had an involuntary twitch and some feared the night before he would never return to “normal,” while others had pretty visions and feel good moments, others rooted-out deep seated blockages, and others still felt nothing at all. Every morning over breakfast as we shared the night before, there was hardly ever a common thread to be found.
My time at the retreat was full of mixed emotions, from my first fairly tame ayahuasca experience, to an energetic full moon san pedro adventure that I haven’t even gone into here, to a final traumatic ayahuasca bitch-slap, I departed without a clear hold on the good vs the bad. Maestro remains an enigma to me. I have respect for his integrity, with him what you see is what you get and he certainly doesn’t put on any kind of show to be a crowd pleaser. I like that. And he is also capable of some flexibility (though I’ve yet to get him to do yoga!), for he did allow us to practice yoga in his ceremony space when at first he was strictly against it. He also shared his land with another shaman and let us gringos have our group ceremony. Though at times he rubs me, as Jon described aya, like a rusty cheese grater, I can see value in his approach, and know it has and will continue to work for some.
Like with yoga, there are many paths up the mountaintop, without one ultimate “right” way. The route you take depends upon your disposition. It surprised me when I came home and told me mom, who is also a yoga instructor, a brief recount of my time at the retreat and she replied, “That sounds perfect. I love that he doesn’t care. I want to go there too!” Uh, no mom, you don’t get it, it was SUPER extreme and difficult. But I didn’t say that, instead “Well, if it sounds good to you, you should check it out.” To each her own and only you can decide.
Remembering, and forgetting, we ebb and flow in this chaotic synchronized dance of life. It’s a both/and situation, a flux and flow that encircles all, like the Yin-Yang or Hunab-Ku. Who’s to say what’s good or bad, and even though nothing really matters, it still does. That’s why we drink aya, we want to know what’s going on, to put the puzzle pieces in place, even though they are blown away like grains of sand as soon as the edges welcome each other. But can we ever really know? Is there ever a final judgment call? I for one am certain about my uncertainty.
If we were as varied as the rainbow spectrum, then Maestro’s way is one that marches resolutely, alone, along the path of awakening under the blazing fire of red, root charka energy. The root chakra is associated with the Earth, with basic survival, the body, and addresses issue of pain, addiction and security. Balancing this chakra allows us to connect with Earth energies, empower our being, and master our survival and instincts. His approach is for the Warrior Spirit who seeks to grab their ego by its horns and wrestle it in and out of being, who seek to battle personal demons without backup, and rising above reliance on anything external in order to know lasting courage and strength.
And yet, the retreat cannot help but be a place of community, where beings come together from scattered points along the planet in search of Self and healing, and where heart still finds a home. As Taka sat with me in my post-aya-hole, I saw again the dim light and I knew who I was through his eyes, much like my first night alone in the jungle on aya where I saw I was the One and alone, yet delighted in knowing I Am through my personal lens. As I had listened to others in days previous and reflected meaning back, so did they for me in my time of darkness, as we all do in even the simplest moments of our lives. We need each other, and we need to know how to be alone.
Rob’s spirited vision is for the retreat to be a gateway for self and planetary transformation. Through his, and his team’s, valor, integrity, and adaptability can his dream be anchored in this time/space. I feel honored to be among the pioneers and I look forward to seeing this portal open further.
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