Letting Go To Stay Alive

Apparently plant medicine works best when a participant brings a focus or intention in order for their Ayahuasca ceremony to have greater ‘flow’ and presumably to be more purposeful. I don’t believe that I have any pressing psychological or emotional issues, so I was unsure how to proceed. Such focus or ‘intention’ could be anything that has to do with the human experience but I decided that I needed to take a deep dive into my past behaviour to unearth foundational issues. It seemed like the right idea but I soon learnt that I bite off more that I could manage.

I struggled with the task at hand but also with the fact that I realized that I didn’t know much about myself. I was taken back by the inaccessibility of my self-awareness, something, apparently that I have deeply buried below my everyday consciousness.  Although I have reflected about my life in the past, mostly this has resulted in finding more fault with others than myself. Now I wondered if I was going to make a fool of myself at the ceremony. The group will include hard-core military and first-responders struggling to find a viable alternative to suicide, in a country where Veterans die by their own hand every 65 minutes. 

I have been told that ‘Mother Aya’ will ‘drag’ me to where I need to go even if I don’t have my ‘intention’ prepared. While it is comforting to know that I will go where I need to go it is also alarming, as it would almost guarantee a more traumatizing experience. Given the concern of my health condition this seems like an unwise course. 

I could simply ask what the plant medicine wants me to know, as some do, but, for me, this is the same as saying nothing. In fact, it is worst than saying nothing. It takes away the opportunity for my post-Ayahuasca life to integrate the lessons from the ceremony and to more readily enrich my life through on-going self-examination. 

The upcoming Ayahuasca experience is more than a high, for me, especially as now I am taking first concrete step in my journey of transformation

The urgency of choosing an intention had the immediate effect of acquainting me with the roots of not only my own personal ignorance but, also, cultural ignorance. In the past, I have never considered reflection important enough to demand my attention, except occasionally when I was stopped in my tracks by a traumatic event. Even then, I resisted learning from the painful lessons. Being in touch with myself, understanding why I do what I do doesn’t come naturally for me. I am easily distracted by the surface issues in my life and struggle with the increasing difficulty maintaining the illusion that I am in control of my life.

Growing up I had no supportive role-models. My American influenced culture elevated the strong, silent male role so keeping my personal issues suppressed in order to cope with day-to-day difficulties was normal for me. Now as I began to explore my past missteps I start to more clearly see my personal faults or, at least, things that I could have done differently. When I repeat the same mistake that a pattern emerges which I picture as personal fault lines, like geological fault lines.

This helps me imagine of all the people living near or on fault lines and the fact that I am no different than any of them. The eighteenth-century expression “what you don’t know cannot hurt you” came to mind as I thought about how so many of us live near or on fault lines while blissfully ignore the likelihood of the next earthquake, climate change disaster or personal meltdown. 

I started my self-examination with my most pressing concerns, my recent experiences of trying to have a psychedelic experience. I examined effort to day. I have explored various ceremonies in South America, the United States and Europe for a range of experiences including Grof-style breathing, Ayahuasca, Psilocybin and 5 MeO DMT. Throughout this process I have engaged a number of people, some of whom were event organizers and others were enthusiasts.

This burgeoning community was very welcoming and generous. Over the past six months I’ve had some of my best, as well as some of my worst, online experiences of my life. The more difficult encounters struck me as a possible window to explore in order to examine my own actions when encountering such trying situations.

A little while ago I applied for a week-long psychedelic retreat which cost $5000 US.

It was ultra expensive but I rationalized it as my 70th birthday gift to myself. Everything checked out. Good people. Great accommodation. Inviting location. It struck me as a wonderful event run by talented and experienced hip, new-age Californians. I exchanged emails and spoke on the phone with organizers a couple times and, after completing the application, was accepted for one of their events. 

I was so delighted about the prospect of this clamorous adventure that my critical brain functions were disengaged. After my acceptance the conversation quickly turned to their demand for payment. I was obligated to pay 50% upfront and the next 50% within 30 days of the event. I was told that they didn’t except credit cards or paypal (because paypal didn’t want their business) and that they only accepted a bank wire transfer that provided me with zero consumer protection or recourse. I agreed to pay any service charges and exchanges rates associated with paypal or a credit card but that was still unacceptable. 

Then, when I asked about their worst-case medical preparedness nothing was forthcoming. The same when I asked on a couple of occasions for the full name of their contact person.I was alarmed by these developments so I agreed to a bank transfer once they provided me with a photocopy of the event owner’s driver’s license and passport. Shortly afterwards they rejected my application. Apparently I was not a good fit. They would consider another time but felt that now I wasn’t ready to participate in their ceremony.

I was totally shaken by this sequence of events and struggled to understand what had happened. It struck a nerve in me as it brought to mind the last time that I wired a US bank with an advance payment and the money and my contact disappeared without a trace. The NYC police said this is a common scam which offers the perpetrator complete anonymity. They scammers were counting on my enthusiasm outweighing my skepticism and I fell hard. Now I used these similar events to reflect upon the commonalities that resulted in unsatisfactory conclusions for me.

For my Psychedelic Journey my expectations are high while my trust is low. I need to invert this equation. 

The rejection forced me to realize that I have deeply rooted trust issues which permeate my life, like tree roots searching for sustenance. My world view, like all world views, has been forged by personal experience. I have lost money in business and on-line because of trusting those that have asked me to trust them. I have been burglarized. My home emptied of prized stuff but left with the lingering stench of an invasion that a counsellor felt was personally traumatic for me. All this and more has made me become less willing to give anyone the benefit of the doubt. 

I can see for the first time that my distrustis changing who I am in the same way that aging has changed me. Slowly, almost imperceptibly. While I still feel that I am the same person I know that these changes have had a gradual and cumulative effect. For me, both aging and distrust occur in such an insidious way that both my old age and my distrustfulness surprised me when I saw myself as a stranger in the mirror. 

When I was rejected by the psychedelic retreat I reacted instinctively. I felt threatened so I sought to share the risk. It probably didn’t help that I believed  the world and especially the virtual world is a playground for predators. I was relieved to have avoided the possibility of fraud but also the added stress and anxiety that would have attached to what promised to be a life-affirming event. I was comfortable with my world view and how I respond to what I consider to be disproportionate trust risks. 

That said, I understand that trust is a repetitive issue for me. I know that I can’t completely trust someone until we have some history but once we do  I can be more trusting of relationships. I once felt that I would trust someone until they gave me reason but now I know that it will be difficult for me to let go of control without also feeling that trust is a two-way road.

It is only a question of time before my body surrenders to medical healthcare and I will be faced with questions concerning quality of life. 

On this journey I have rationalized my reliance on medication by perhaps underestimating its importance to my health. I am not a medical expert but I sometimes believe that since I know how I feel that I also know my own health better than my medical experts. The medical reliance on the pharmaceutical industry makes me distrustful of their treatment and care. 

It’s difficult for me to admit that I need medication when I’m not impacted by my health issues on a daily basis. High Blood Pressure and occasional episodes of Atrial Fibrillation are growing in importance for me as I age. Yet, I believe that I am still healthy.  

I also believe that I will, at some point relatively soon, need to trust the medical community and rely even more on medication. In this window that I now enjoy, however, I will embrace a more wholistic approach for as long as it makes sense to so so. Exercise, food choices, a relatively stress-free lifestyle, quality sleep and the love of my partner and family are my first line of defence against being subsumed by the major health issues facing an increasingly obese and unhealthy population. When it is time to let go of this lifestyle I will still want to do so to the best of my abilities.

When I told organizers of psychedelic retreats that my some of my medication is preventative and necessary in case of a stroke or high blood pressure it was true but not the whole story. I was undercutting the fact that I need my medication. Even with my exemplary lifestyle I can clearly see that it will only delay the inevitable. I am struggling to accept my medical condition. It was wrapped up in my fear of dying inside my head as my body continues going through the motions of life.  

I have always believed that people can’t change. Yet, I also know that many people change the closer they get to their deaths. They make amends for past misdeeds and harmful behaviours or begin to embrace the comfort of a forgiving god. We all seek life’s meaning, especially after our biological and social purposes have been fulfilled or the flavour of life is gone. For me, I believe that we exist in a closed ecosystem and that when my human form is gone that whatever remains will continue to exist. This will be enough for me when and if I let go of my own ego and sense of self-importance. But it won’t be enough for me now, as now I intent to live fully until my last breathe. 

I need to reframe my deep-seated belief about old age and death and make this profound change in order to accept my body’s transformation and the next stage in my life cycle. I can understand these needs on a cerebral level but this insight is not enough to counter the influence of my life-long conditioning. It might be possible, however, if I have a life-altering visceral experience, like an Ayahuasca ceremony, that drags me to where I need to go. Maybe that will help me accept my transition from one organic form to another.

Perhaps this will be my intention and Mother Ayahuasca will show be what I need to see and know and that will be enough for me.

I know that I am not content when I try to orchestrate my life. I want to remain open to whatever I encounter despite the fact that I have difficulty letting go of control. On one level I can’t let go until I feel safe enough to trust. I cannot trust until I feel safe enough to let go. On another level the idea of letting go, for me, is also tied to a belief in a higher power. Often this means man-made religion which I also don’t trust. 

I do, however, accept the life forces of nature and I remain open to spirituality based on the fact that the grand design of nature suggests that the forces that ultimately shape our world are beyond our comprehension. Maybe that is only because we can only see what we can see and therefore our understanding limited. After all we live on the periphery of a vast world.

Maybe it comes down to allowing the Universe or whatever makes each us feel safe to control our fate because if we choose to let go and trust a greater power we don’t have many good choices. Something more that the biological imperatives living, breeding and dying. I feel connected to nature and drawn to spirituality so within this spectrum I hope to find solace but do not expect to find any answers.

For now, I will continue to explore my trust issues and try be open more. I want to let go and still feel safe. The next step, however, will be up to Mother Ayahuasca and learning what she has to tell me. Now, at least, I believe that I have a focus and that I need help from this powerful pant medicine in order to continue my journey.

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