Amazonian Medicine – Day 1

My Uber driver, Carlos, was waiting for me when I arrived. I immediately liked his easy going, non-judgemental and ‘there-are-no-problems’ self. By the time we arrived at the retreat he had revealed that he was a family man with deep spiritual convictions who has used and deeply believes in the wisdom and efficacy of traditional Amazonian medicines. At the time, I didn’t realize that he would become a pillar for me during this retreat but, after only a few days, I began to consider him as both a guiding light and a friend. 

I arrived in Orlando not knowing what to expect other than the upcoming Ayahuasca retreat will not be a pleasant ‘trip’ but rather a  gauntlet of intense self-examination and therapy as well as a test of my health and physical limitations. These things may seem to you like strange things for me to be excited by, but I see these unpromising prospects as the price of my admission to a possible life-changing event for me. My focus was strictly on the life-changing event that I was about to experience. 

After getting settled, Carlos approached and asked me if I wanted to participate in the traditional Amazonian ceremonies of Kambo and Rapé (pronounced ‘ha-peh’). It turns out that my Uber driver is a trained and respected practitioner at SQ. From his perspective in was a good time. I hadn’t eaten in over twelve hours and the first of three Ayahuasca ceremonies was set for tomorrow. The spacing between ceremonies would be good. For me, however, this turn of events was unexpected. I didn’t feel ready.

I didn’t expect to start my experiences with Kambo and Rapé so soon. I caught off-guard but, also, disappointed by the fact that I still had expectations. 

I didn’t really expect this to happen as the concern over the rapid lowering of BP was an issue that offered some concern and hesitation. Craig, the former EMT, had reviewed my medication and taken several BP readings and, despite conflicting machine readings, decided that I was good to go. I trusted in his advise and Carlos’ experience and was comforted by the fact that both would be involved in my ceremony. 

I had spent the last week letting go of my worries and anxieties surrounding this event. I thought that I was in a good place. I felt that I had let go of my medical concerns, my too-old concerns and my fear-of-the-unknown concerns but now it felt like the flood gates were opened and my self-doubt was no longer contained. Was I really ready? Am I strong enough? Why can’t I let go? I soon realized that having expectations was my impediment.

I also felt that realizing this mistake so quickly was positive in that it allowed me to rapidly reframe my perspective. This small change helped me to remember that I need to make allowances and to see my mistakes or missteps as guard rails that could help me stay on my path. Today this mistake helped me to realign myself with my letting-go/letting-be beliefs and to push forward into the unknown with minimal expectations. It also helped me to understand that I was on the right path and that I was meant to be here now. Mostly, it helped me avoid being defined by my self-limiting beliefs and the pitfall of starting this retreat by retreating. 

The Kambo experience was as unpleasant as it was humbling

Carlos lit an incense stick which would be used to create pin holes in my skin for the venom to seep into my circulatory system. We discussed where to burn my skin. He asked me to take off my t-shirt and we studied the 4-direction American native tattoo on my shoulder. He had over thirty similar marks on his shoulder and told me that he had nearly a hundred lasting burn marks throughout his body. We agreed to integrate my marks into my tattoo and my Uber driver and now, brother, proceeded with a practiced intensity.

The first dot of the venomous secretion of the giant leaf or monkey frog was applied and we waited to see how I would react before applying the other two. I could feel the secretion moving through my body like a wave. It started, of course, at my shoulder with a sharp pain that moved quickly through my arm. Next I started to sweat as my entire body heated up and I became light headed to the point where standing up was no longer an option.

Carlos, the former marine, gave me precise instructions. The white plastic bucket (my friend) in front of my mat was to go everywhere that I went. The most effective position to throw up is up on all fours. Breathing properly and regularly is key. When I needed to go to the bathroom, take ‘my friend’ and walk or crawl every step of the 120 feet that now separated us. Carlos told me it was my chance to be a ‘warrior’. It was this thought that stayed with me when I started to uncontrollably vomit. 

As part of the ceremony I was required to drink three 32 fl ounces of water that I now expelled in violent bursts as Carlos yelled ceremonial outbursts of ‘Viva Kambo’. It kept me focused on the fact that this was an act of purging not food poisoning or alcohol binging. In about twenty minutes the sensations decreased. I still couldn’t get off my knees or consider standing but I was comfortable that the worst was over. The waste basket was almost full of yellow liquid that, apparently, was from my now purified liver which could now reset itself much like I now could. 

The Rapé didn’t allow me to get comfortable

Then Carlos suggested I try Rapé, sometimes called the vaccine of the jungle. I resisted at first as I was overwhelmed with the power of Kambo. Then I realized that I was already deep in the jungle of this journey and felt that I might as well go ‘all in’. The first blow pipe of Rapé or Rappeé (pronounced Hepay) was forcefully blown into my nostrils and provide me with the image of the unstoppable power a speedy train slamming into a station. It’s power, especially after experiencing the power of Kambo, still knocked me back and almost almost immediately I felt that I had surrendered my body and no longer felt comfortable standing. 

On the mat, however, I couldn’t decide on the sweet spot that married comfort and control. Not capital C control but a diminishing sense of control that allowed me to throw up with a slight semblance of dignity.  I snorted the Rapé from my nostrils and into my mouth then spit it out the residue into my friend/ly bucket. I vomited uncontrollably. I totally lost and sense of self-consciousness. I didn’t care how I looked or the mess I made. I was in survival mode. I lost all sense of time. 

I was told to breath through my nose and to bring Rappé into my mouth but to not swallow. When my mouth was dry from spitting my bile and remains of the Rapé, I drank more water and my nostrils were lubricated enough that a forcefully inward snort brought more spit for my ‘waste’ bucket. This process was demanding in its own right but, as part of the ceremony, Carlos lit a cigarette and used the smoke to blow a constant cloud of noxious fumes that I was to breathe in as I emptied my nostrils.  

At one point I even held my breath which made no sense given the situation. 

When I couldn’t hold my breath any longer then I inhaled and accepted the foul-smelling smoke into my lungs. The music was ceremonial and, although I couldn’t understand the language, I took comfort from the fact this ceremony was thousands of years old. I accepted it with the realization that, after 5,000 or so years of use, traditional ceremonial medicines have been fine tuned and fully field tested. 
I knew everything would be alright as the the vomiting subsided, the sweating passed and my pulse rate normalized. I started to feel calmer, more grounded. Carlos leaned over me and said that I had done well. I didn’t especially feel like I had done well in any sense except I had survived the ordeal.

When I had nothing left inside me and I could lie back for a moment, and only a moment before the dry urge to purge was again instilled, Carlos suggested that I should eat. I agreed but explained that I was at a lost as how to get food. After all, there wasn’t anything here to eat and I didn’t know the area nor believe that I could leave this tent. Carlos said he would leave me to get some Chinese plain rice and vegetables. It sounded terrific and I offered to pay for his meal as well. He left and I stayed as I sank back into my mattress and bathed in the last of the day’s sun.

When he returned we ate together. Well he ate and I nibbled. He refused my offer to pay for his food and he choose to pay for mine. He was extremely happy with how well I managed both ceremonies. He called me a warrior and said that now I am more prepared for tomorrow’s ceremonies. I began felt a flush of pride until he explained that the quantity of my vomit was the basis for his complimentary outpourings. He told me that I needed to do a lot of purging as it was the most he has ever seen. 

In some perverse way I knew that I needed this struggle at this time

I didn’t want to be seduced by the comforts of my life. I know that this meant a soft entry into an inevitable state of oblivion. I want to stay vital until I die. It may not be in my cards but as long as I can affect my own destiny I plan to do so. I know that this requires effort and that part of this effort involves facing my fears. It would be easy to embrace the green pastures presented by old age and retirement but I know that this idealized image of retirement is an illusion. 

My first step in my journey of higher consciousness was taken in an open-front yurt tent.  My guide and practitioner is my Uber driver. I listened to the sounds of the Amazonian jungle in a hot 30C Orlando, Florida and it almost felt like I was there not here. The walls are plastered with intriguing Cameron Gray tapestries that danced with the soft, warm wind as I remember this morning I was in Canada. It is dark. It was snowing. It was and is home. 

Here, however I felt a tranquility. I felt almost a sense of oneness or belonging, as the sun slowly sank and the day transformed into night. The area is large enough a separate enough to feel safe and to be oneself. There was a lovely sense of shared experience, a commonality among fellow seekers and travellers all intent on having a life-changing experience. It also felt like a little bit of the hippie 60’s but mostly it felt like a place were there was little judgement and lots of spiritual love.

I felt that I could be myself, my true self.

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