Disorientation and Discovery – Day3a

In the last couple days I’ve turned my regular daily routine upside down and yet, this day, will be an even more demanding test of my endurance. I’ve eaten irregularly and poorly due to the fasting required for ceremonies and my self-imposed fasting, as well as my upside-down schedule. My sleep has been cut to two or so hours for the last three out of four nights. My water intake has been uneven and definitely on the low side. I have been off my meds almost entirely for the last 5 days. I am now running on fumes.  

I wondered if my disorientation was due to this intense retreat or part of my aging, or both. 

Although I take no comfort from the fact that I’m still running, I do enjoy the experience for the nourishment that it provides me. For instance, there are no judgements here. I can be who I am, warts and all. No one cares how I look or who I am in life. After the first two days I already feel much less self-conscious. Here there is an atmosphere of acceptance and spiritual love by all. The freedom from the moral judgements of others has allowed me to embrace this disparate community as fellow seekers. Yet, later today my bias towards others would come into starker focus and I would learn a bit more about judging others when I was reminded of an often quoted, but rarely followed, Bible verse.

I arrived at the outdoor Yoga session late but enjoyed it thoroughly. Afterwards, I had my second Kambo ceremony, another three burn marks on my belt/pelt. It was easier in that I knew what to expect but it was harder in that there was more of a concerted effort for me to purge deeper. Afterwards I touched based with a few event acquaintances and took the time to bask in their camaraderie. Then we were told the outdoor Ayahuasca ceremony was about to begin. I hurried back to my room and grabbed my hat and water bottle before proceeding, as it was already 30C or so hot. I realized that I had yet to use sunscreen and needed to be more aware of my overall safety and well-being. I wondered if my disorientation was due to this intense retreat or part of my aging, or both, as I always quickly walked to a secluded natural area for my second Ayahuasca ’tea’.

She was using a hand-held fan as if she was sitting on a beach towel at the beach.

I arrived a bit late but was still able to select my preferred area under a canopy of tree branches. I was less exposed to the sun and felt that I was wrapped in a protective embrace. As the Ayahuasca mixture was being prepared I focused on my intention but was distracted by a few neighbouring people repositioning their mats for more comfort. The twenty-something woman immediately beside me moved her mat the most and seemed the least focus. She was using a hand-held wand fan as if she was sitting on a beach towel at the beach.

We briefly introduced ourselves and I was left with the distinct impression that she, Krystal, was a seasoned Ayahuasca user or, at least, someone who was not the least bit anxious. I even thought that she might be a helper who had simply chosen a comfortable vantage point. I told her that she reminded me of my oldest daughter. She said she loved me and I said that I loved her. I wasn’t concerned about the normal implications of such an exchange because it was said within the context of this event and it was ridiculous to think otherwise since I was nearly 50 years her senior and we had just met.

I was glad that we met because if this ceremony was anything like the one last night then I wanted to know what was real and what wasn’t before things became unclear to me. I appreciated the fact that she she seemed to be experienced and calm. I relaxed me a little. I told Krystal she was my touchstone today, a benchmark that I can use to find reality if I get lost again. I moved my mat and closed the 5 foot gap between us by a couple feet. I now felt ready for whatever Mother Ayahuasca needs to show me.

As the medicine began to take hold, I struggled to begin my inner journey 

It was as intense as my first ceremony but, thankfully, without the paranoia. The day was warm and comforting especially after a wearisome winter in Canada. I felt both peaceful and content as I basked in the warmth. My hallucinations also started peacefully. At first I never felt that I was in danger. I still knew that this was a hallucination. I closed by eyes and when I reopened them the tree appeared normal again. Then, after a short while, life returned and soon the threat reappeared.

Before the threat reappeared, however, there was an overwhelming sense that I was in a unspoilt ecosystem, a sort of ‘garden of eden’.  I felt a tremendous sense of connection to the natural world. I saw the tree branches above my head undulate with life, like the dark shadows of a jungle. Butterflies emerged from their cocoons, birds feed their days-old offspring, insects disappeared and reappeared into the tree trunk and jaguars sprawled out on limbs with all legs dangling. Everything seemed natural and peaceful until it wasn’t.

I became stuck in a loop. I once again observed tree leafs and branches transform into insects and birds. The same or similar jaguar once again slowly moved along a branch towards me.  I looked around and realized many people used night shades and probably didn’t experience this hallucination. I also noticed that my loving neighbour had already left. I was a bit concerned but not surprised. For a brief moment I felt alone again, but such indulgent thoughts were sweep away by the next wave of my struggle to accept the invasive medicine and what it was trying to tell me. I knew better than to resist but, in the moment, I couldn’t seem to let go.

The earth is dying and we are killing it.

Then I did. I surrendered. I opened my arms and motioned the tree life to join me as I closed my eyes. As my hands felt the dry soil beside me, I was overcome by a sweeping sense of sadness. I cried as I held handfuls of desert-like soil. I felt the pain and the suffering of terrestrial life with the realization that I was not separate from such life but part of it. I, too, was dying from the polluted soil, water and air. The only difference was that I was part of the problem.

I gently massaged the soil until I felt an above-ground, ‘runner’ root that held the promise of life for a tiny leaf. I emptied my water bottle and gently held the runner for a moment before resuming my inward journey. Later, I made the association between this runner and  a baby ‘Groot’, the Marvel Comics pop culture icon, with his repeated line “I am Groot” of Internet meme fame. Then, however, I simply felt a deep shame at the way the Earth has been abused in the service of mankind’s greed. 

I was struck by the irony. While mankind has proved to be the scourge of the Earth and our closed ecosystem has suffered perhaps irreparable damage we, by and large, consider nature an externality. Maybe this has something to do with the fact people mostly live in cities which are disconnected from nature. Maybe it has something to do with the promise of technology to solve the problem of our survival. We are so people centric that we cannot empathize with the suffering of other life forms nor appreciate the toxic world we have blissfully created. This head-in-the-sand approach promises immunity from the consequences of a dying world but only to those who are either old or old and rich.

A hand grabbed mine. I opened my eyes as I was helped to my feet. We tearfully embraced each other.

I wanted to stand but couldn’t on my first attempt. When I did manage I needed to return to my mat almost immediately as I was too unstable to walk. Soon I felt stuck in a loop and unable to progress with my thinking or my experience. I raised my arm as I was told to do in order to summon help. None appeared so I opened my eyes. As my hallucinations returned I realized that there were no helpers to be found.

I didn’t want to have more hallucinations so I shut my eyes. I felt trapped. Then I remembered my first Kambo experience when Carlos told me if I wanted to use the bathroom I had to be a warrior. No-one was going to help so I would need to do whatever it took to be where I needed to be. It wouldn’t be easy – the entrance some 30 metres away – as my knees were tender and the surface rough.

I gingerly began to crawl on all fours. My bare knees immediately hurt from the rocky soil. I wanted to open my eyes. I wanted to give up. Instead I took my time and continued to slowly make progress. I felt compelled to persevere, to show myself what I can do when I firmly set my mind. This was especially poignant for me as I hated to walk barefoot on a dirt road and being on all fours was a new level of discomfort for me.

At the same time, however, I felt a sense of relief knowing that I was changing the venue and moving out of the endless loop. I felt that I had gotten everything that I needed to get from being in nature. I felt even more connected to the natural world. When I felt like I was near my goal – artificial turf leading away from the Ayahuasca area – I felt the ground in front of me and waved my hand in front of me for clues. 

A hand grabbed mine and I opened my eyes as I was helped to my feet we warmly embraced each other. It was another participant who later told me that helping me gave him a deep joy and was the highlight of his Ayahuasca experience today. We held each other warmly and, in a brief moment, I felt that I understood why I couldn’t open my eyes. It was an act of humility and servitude. It brought this stranger and I close and it made me ever more connected to the life forces I’ve experienced today.

She recognized my voice and told me that she loved me not once but several times, not casually but purposefully. 

I was handed over to an official helper who slowly guided me along the artificial turf pathway. At the end of the path I was asked to chose between two opposite directions, one which led to the outdoor retreat epicentre and the other, which was removed from the post Ayahuasca gatherings and somewhat private.  As we walked into open gift shop/kitchen/office/lounge area I was immediately struck by the air-conditioned cold air and the presence of someone lying on the floor yelling ‘what’s happening to my body?’

It was Krystal. Not the confident, in-control Krystal that I had met a few hours earlier. Now she was frightened. She had a night shade pulled over her eyes and while rotating her left leg in the air repeatedly cried out ‘what’s happening to my body?’ to no one in particular. Various people came and went but no-one except a helper, who sat near her in order to monitored her, paid any attention. I sat on a nearby couch and became increasingly irritated by her unanswered cries.

My helper, Lance, sat in the background observing me and the situation. I didn’t realize at the time I was still under the influence of Ayahuasca despite not experiencing any hallucinations or obvious effects. I approached Krystal cautiously. I tried to touch her shoulder but was silently warned against doing so by her helper. I leaned closer and softly said that she was having a hallucination but was in a safe space. She recognized my voice and told me that she loved me not once but several times. I became uncomfortable with her affection so returned to my seat as she continued to cry out for me.

Krystal was removed and I became the new concern in the room.

When I couldn’t stand it any longer I told her to keep her thoughts to herself. I tried not to show any emotion but I knew that I was becoming increasingly irratated by her actions. I had never seen someone in this condition before and in my own condition I wasn’t tuning into what would otherwise seem obvious. I should have left the room but I couldn’t imagine leaving this space at this time.

She continued to cry out but stopped professing her love for me. I became aware that my helper was sitting behind me closely watching the events unfold. He was somewhat stoic but clearly capable of intervening at any suggestion of danger. I was so grateful for the care and protection offered here, something that is difficult to put into words except, perhaps, to say I felt safe, protected and loved as I know others must as well.

Soon another participant sat near me and we began a pleasant conversation. I was unusually opinionated and self-righteous. Our conversation became more and more engaging. I barely noticed when the change happened. Krystal was removed and I became the new concern in the room that I had blithely walked into, unaware that it served as the triage area for still-at-risk Ayahuasca users.

An overweigh and heavily tattooed couple entered the space. She sat beside me on the couch and he sat across from us on a chair. I noticed them when they first arrived but dismissed them as people who made poor life choices. As they settled into their seats I began to feel a bit like a lab specimen, one being observed intently.

I didn’t yet realize that I was under their care. Up until now I had seen them strictly as participants, not helpers. We talked about our respective backgrounds. They were happily married and enjoying the intimacy that sharing this lifestyle with each other provides them as a couple. I slowly became a little envious as I know my life partner would never want to travel, let alone spend time in this environment.

We quickly launched an animated conversation once we found common ground – love of food. They kept referring back to me and I kept opening up to their interest. I explained that I enjoy healthy food and when prompted explained my preparation of my go-to typical meal, which is the endlessly variable ‘buddha bowl’.

It was all simple stuff: pre-cooked servings such as 7-grain rice; some pre-packaged servings like unadulterated avocado and raw beets; some frozen organic veggies and other items that were raw like organic celery and carrots and either garlic infused tofu or plain salmon. They peppered me with questions as I tried to explain how healthy food didn’t necessarily mean expensive or time consuming. I even explained how colour and lawyering were important to the presentation and that I always added a hidden surprise item in the bowl to keep things fresh.

I was surprised by my own admission because the thought had not occurred to me until then.

She engaged me with her honesty and openness. I became interested in their lives and their life choices. She was curious about my  life and my life choices. As her partner returned with the food I pushed mine aside after a few kibbles. It was healthy food but I was not comfortable with the sauces used on the food. I hadn’t eaten much for several days but, strangely, wasn’t especially hungry. I explained that between my 17 hour a day fasting, the lack of on-site food and the ceremonial food restrictions that I might be starving. 

I didn’t actually mean that I was starving but, in hindsight, I realize now that I was calling out for help. I admitted that after several days here I still had no idea how to secure a proper healthy meal. As I vocalized my plight I began to realize the personal costs. I was consumed by the life-changing nature of the event. I was disoriented by my hunger and lack of sleep. I couldn’t simply turn off after experiencing the events of the day. I had no time to process anything during the day and was not in an objective mental frame during the night.

Time was always at a premium for me. I struggled to have a shower, change clothes and brush my teeth before each day’s ceremonies. I didn’t want to miss any events or attempt to unravel the meaning of my experiences but in doing so I had largely ignored my own personal needs. I had not learned how to pace myself and didn’t yet realize that I was beginning to run on fumes.

The bible verse ‘treat others as you want to be treated’ has become a lesson that I now need to truly live.

Shortly, I was approached by the resident nutritionist/partner and in a few minutes I was smiling in front of a plate of raw food. As the conversation proceeded, I confessed my biases against overweigh people and how I first judged them as interesting but obese and unhealthy. Their selflessness, however, made me deeply regret my prejudice and bias. I sincerely told them that I was wrong to judge them or anyone on the basis of how they looked. I said that I was sorry and they dismissed my quick to judge first thoughts as the way our culture teaches us to judge others superficially.  Nonetheless, the bible verse ‘treat others as you want to be treated’ has become a lesson that I now need to truly live. 

I gradually stabilized. I felt blessed by the love that they showed me. I wanted to invite them into my life but after this encounter she had a difficult experience and we lost contact with each other. It is something that I’ve known would likely happen as the euphoria of the shared event wears off in the real world as daily life resumes its demands. Nonetheless, They will always be in my warm thoughts for the terrific people they are.

We parted after I regained my stability and independence. Outside I realized that I had a few minutes before attending the next event so I briefly returned to my cabin. I realized that I had forgotten my water bottle, t-shirt and prized red sun/glasses. This was the second time I left stuff behind, including my glasses. I rationalized my memory failure and reframed in my unintentional gaffe in positive terms of my singular focus when on Ayahuasca. Maybe this was also part of aging. 

I didn’t know that I was so prejudiced against overweight people but this encountered taught be that I have an issue that needs further exploration. I have always felt that I was above prejudice, stereotyping or discrimination but now I know differently. I used to consider this a bias, a personal preference but now I understand it as and outright prejudice that I need to confront.

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