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Darkness, Fear & Self Loathing
Part Two: It is true that one must pass through the darkness to enter the light
Reading is a dialogue that is happening outside of real time. An active exchange between the reader and the writer, with each having a responsibility to make the encounter as meaningful as possible. Writers are tasked with being authentic. Allowing our fingertips on a keyboard to be the vessels through which our story unfolds. Never claiming full ownership of the words, but rather words flowing magically through us. Our voices merely a means to an end. An end, ideally, that leaves the reader better off than they were before the encounter. But good writing experiences don’t just fall to the writer. Readers also have an intricate part to play. As a reader, if you enter dialogue with an open mind, free from judgement, with curiosity, and resist the urge to internalize things that challenge your beliefs, you are bound to learn something of value. As I share my story, I assure you I will hold up my end of the bargain, and I ask you do the same.
After the first of four ayahuasca ceremonies, I declared, “I will never fucking do that again.” I began saying this, inside my head, with about three hours remaining in the ceremony and finally said it out loud, to my husband, the next morning. I’m not exactly sure what I thought it would be like, but this wasn’t it. For one, I had no idea there was an actual, formal ceremony and I also didn’t know about the icaros, or indigenous colloquial magic songs used during plant medicine ceremonies. Another guest, who had been to Soltara in Costa Rica a few years prior, described the singing to us during dinner the night before, by saying they were powerful and peaceful but I didn’t foresee the singing to go on without interruption for hours on end. Mapacho, a strong tobacco from the rain forest hadn’t come up in discussion either. So you can imagine what was running through my mind, laying in the pitch-dark molaca, smoke so thick I can barely see the various people around me, endlessly vomiting into their respective buckets. We had a thorough meeting earlier in the day, which I now realize in hindsight, all of this was explained but for some reason, I hadn’t envisioned this level of intensity. For the record, I was so excited for this first experience. As someone who actually enjoys being slightly out of my mind, I wasn’t nervous at all. I’m not a virgin to substances either, so I had no doubt ayahuasca would be enjoyable, albeit different. I knew from listening to many podcasts, reading extensively and talking to others who had been through the experience, that you are fully coherent and alert, yet at the same time outside of your limited conscious mind. I couldn’t square these two things in my mind, until experiencing it first hand.
Ayahuasca is a vine and I now understand why it is explained as a feminine essence, which wraps itself around you. Gracefully winding around every part of you that is in need of healing. Places you don’t even know are broken. Places it has not been invited. About thirty minutes after drinking only half a cup of the grotesque tasting purplish brew ( a small, diagnostic dose) I began to feel her presence inside of me. Wrapping around my mind and inside my body like the vine she is, alive and so gentle. The best I can describe the sensation is that unlike drinking alcohol or smoking marijuana, where you feel somehow “outside” of your body, with ayahuasca, you feel it literally creeping around inside of you. It was terrifying. Dark tunnels inside the left corner of my head, whispering, “come inside here.” That’s a hard no! Then bright white, squiggling tunnels to the right, also inviting me in. No thanks! Opening my eyes made it all go away but the sensation of a live vine inhabiting my body remained. This is when the self-loathing and unimaginable self-deprecating thoughts came flooding in. You were excited for this, what is wrong with you? You claim to be so strong and you’re afraid of this? This is all just in your mind, what the hell is wrong with you? You are always so full of shit. You are a fraud. You’ve only caused hurt and haven’t accomplished anything worth-while in your life. This was my voice, not her’s. Ayahuasca’s voice was gentle, calm, serene - it was my own voice that was brutal, harsh and filled with contempt. I kept my eyes open for the majority of the ceremony, out of fear of what I would see if I closed them and did whatever I could to resist the pull to look deeper into myself. After singing the icaros to the group for what seemed like an eternity, the maestros take turns sitting, cross-legged in front of each person and sing a very specific icaro to you, as a way to release energy or blocks they can see in the forms of patterns inside of you. When Corina, a lovely, bite-sized little Shipibo woman came to sit in front of me, it was impossible for me to keep my eyes open. I had set an intention for this ceremony to be reconnected with my feminine essence. Intentions are important so you do not set expectations and come away disappointed and to help you keep an open mind. It is said that ayahuasca will show you what you need to see, not what you want to see. I had worked on setting intentions for several weeks prior to arriving in Peru, of which included breaking through my self-limiting beliefs and behaviors. Rediscovering my feminine essence hadn’t entered my mind, until I set foot in the maloca. I can’t explain it, it just came flooding into my mind like a tidal wave. Any attempt to focus on anything else was like trying to stop a tsunami from breaking shore. As she sang to me, I floated into my mother’s womb. Head facing downward, pink, speckled skin of an ill baby - of which I was when I was born. I could see my tiny hands, and feel the inside of my mom. It dawned on me as I opened my eyes that my feminine essence starts here, with the woman who gave me life.
The remainder of the ceremony, I repeated the mantra, trust, gratitude and humility. I was filled with fear, anxiety and an over-all sense of confusion but I was willing to trust that which I don’t yet understand, be grateful for these Shipibo people, who have nothing to gain by sharing their gifts of healing with Westerners like me and be humble enough to admit my fear and lack of understanding. Shortly after midnight, the ceremony came to a close and I opted to return to my room, rather than spend the night in the maloca. The smoke, the singing and the sounds of vomit and tears of others all around me had gotten the best of me. I couldn’t escape that place fast enough!
I returned to my room nauseous, filled with fear and anxiety and completely exhausted. But as I closed my eyes and thanked God it was over, I was awakened by sorrow like I’ve never experienced before. Shortly after closing my eyes, the vision of my daughter Kathryn, who died the day she was born, swiftly enveloped my mind. She was about age five, long brown hair hanging down the back of her soft-white, delicate dress, standing at the gate of a beautiful garden. There was another girl with her, who looked to be a few years older and the two of them stood expectantly at the white, antique gate with gold, round finials across the rungs. Birds were chirping lovingly amongst the roses and the sound of running water was in the distance. The setting was as real and as vivid as the place I was currently staying. Kathryn then said to the other little girl, with sheer joy and excitement in her voice, “Oh look at this beautiful garden! It’s so beautiful! Let’s go in!” But the older girl looked at her apologetically and said in her softest, most regretful voice, “We can’t. Your mom won’t let us in there.”
I jumped to my feet and wept. She’s right, Kathryn. I haven’t let you in there. Just like I won’t let anyone in.
Turns out what they say about ayahuasca is true - it will show you what you need to see, not necessarily what you want to see.
More to come…
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