The freaky paintings in my room came alive for me last night. I really needed to sleep and was so looking forward to a deep, undisturbed slumber. Nonetheless, I was unnerved from the depressing portraits of the people and life in the 19th century and had one of the worst night’s sleep in the past five nights which have all been characterized by sleep deprivation. Ironically, my sleepless night occurred despite all my efforts to arrange a quiet room on a quiet floor and in a quiet hotel and nothing to do in the morning but sleep.
The instinctive act of empathizing with these still paintings was a surprisingly remarkably immersive experience
Instead of falling asleep, I fell into the despair and gloom depicted in the paintings on the walls of my room. I wasn’t interested in the details of the painting for they were real to me despite everything might suggest the opposite. For what seemed like hours, I was stuck in their real or imagined nightmarish lives.
In the first of three portraits, a young gypsy has a distant, thoughtful look as if he is struggling to overcome an insolvable problem. In another, a cultured lady inadequately disguises her despair in a puffy, dark green dress and bright red hair bows, long gloves and lips. The tone of the final portrait was much the same as the other portraits, but here the plain, unadorned woman appears even more dispirited and disheartened.
I was compelled by what I imagined the subjects of the paintings experienced at that specific moment in their lives. In the scenic painting of a lonely bent relic of a person, who, dwarfed by a lifeless house and a barren tree, shuffles into the bleak landscape with its familiar menacing shadows and foreboding sky. The instinctive act of empathizing with these still paintings was a surprisingly remarkably immersive experience.
For me, all the paintings were portals into the spirit and ‘soul’ of these individuals in history but these portraits transcended time and place and served as depictions that were prototypical for all mankind. Each of us and all of us were portrayed in these horribly sad scenes of beaten down or broken people. I could feel their anguish and despair as if they were alive and important in my life.
It helped me to connect the pain and suffering of others with my belief that our world was a shared, rather than an individual experience.
As I continued to enter the paintings, my skin suddenly came alive as if I was experiencing an icy breeze on my bare skin. Periodically, I shivered uncontrollably. My peripheral vision became distorted as my fear became one with me and we become more and more inseparable to each other. I tried but was unable to turn the paintings around.
Walking to my bathroom was frightening in the dark stillness of my room. When I turned on the bathroom light, I had goose bumps on my arms and a shiver going down my spine. My body was anticipating something waiting for me, something that I didn’t suspect or want. In the harsh light I saw nothing unusual and knew that it was all my imagination
Maybe I’m alright. Maybe I’m not. I don’t know. When I stared at myself in the mirror I saw a man who couldn’t get a handle on his own fears. I felt like I was loosing control of reality, my reality. The paintings made me feel that I was lost and, at the same time, like I had found my humanity. I felt good with this insight. It helped me to connect the pain and suffering of others with my belief that our world was a shared, rather than an individual experience.
I cannot always distinguish between what is real and what isn’t, in fact, knowing the difference is not always enough to overcome my trigger fears.
It was around 5 in the morning but I pulled back the window shades and saw the first light of day. It was enough to change my rhythm, to start my day. At the lounge I engaged with the person in charge of the breakfast food. When I told her that I was awake by 3:00am, she told me that she was awake at 2:30am every work day and needed to get her child ready for school and then travel by three buses to work in time to offer a 6am breakfast service.
I could literally feel my fears start to melt away as I thought about her struggle to survive another day. Yet she tried to comfort me. We hugged and I felt connected to her. I had turned my gaze outward, away from my fears and over-active imagination. We talked a bit about her child until other hotel guests arrived and abruptly ended our conversation. I gathered my breakfast, including some energy bars for the day, then walked barefoot in my sweat pants and t-shirt back to my room.
As I showered and shaved I thought about how whether my recent life-changing experiences have been remarkable given how little sleep I have the past week or, rather, because I was sleep-deprived. In any event I still function, even if in altered states of consciousness. I also wonder why I was so emotionally connected today when yesterday I was so cognitively connected. As I started my last full day in Orlando with the hope I could find a functioning balance between my Ayahuasca transformed life to my every day reality in the ‘real’ world.
I departed the hotel with the realization that my fears were within my power to control. It is such an obvious realization but one that I sometimes struggle to fully appreciate. I am a pawn to my irrational anxieties for they, too, are part of me. I cannot always distinguish between what is real and what isn’t, in fact, knowing the difference is not always enough to overcome my trigger fears.
I realized that my mood was different today. I was less cerebral, more driven by my heart
I decided to explore my neighbourhood. On the first street corner, a homeless person with a generous smile saluted me as I approached. Before returning his salute I weighed the fact that I wasn’t a veteran or an American but, recognizing his gesture, I honoured his greeting with a return salute. We chatted briefly. He had prime real estate and knew his market well enough to strike the right notes. I made him a few dollars happier, at which point he blessed me. I gratefully accepted his blessing and wished him well.
As I continued my walk I asked a person on the sidewalk for directions to a health food restaurant. When I commented on his agitated state he explained that he just started a new job, cold-calling businesses for advertising in a local paper. He wasn’t doing well and as I walked with him for a couple blocks as he told me his life story. He was a guy trying to do the right thing, to support his family with no skills and no job prospects. He was scared so I told him about my first and last door-to-door experience selling encyclopedias that ended in a sales person’s nightmare.
I encouraged him to dig deep and told him that it was his time to be a warrior. He opened up to me more about his struggles and when we parted ways it seemed like we both got something good from the random encounter. For my part, I not only appreciated that everyone was the center of their universe and that we all suffer from the same or similar journeys in life but also that each of us has the power to control our respective destinies.
‘You are expelling negative things that no longer serve you…stay focus on your new life and perspective on things’
As I continued my unhurried journey through Orlando, I remember how much I enjoyed exploring a city in my youth when I walked city streets all night long to see the authentic side of a place. Now I was more cautious but, even so, that didn’t mean I had to stop exploring or avoid confronting my fears.It was easy to end up in the wrong place at the wrong time but equally as easy to connect with my humanity, to remember my good fortune in life when so many others have lost their way.
I distributed energy bars to each homeless or street person that I encountered. I liked the idea better than money as then I knew that had a positive healthy impact. I was more in tune with this approach then when I offer to buy some cigarettes for the woman at Soul Quest who helped me during a long night of my first and only frightening hallucination. She was out of cigarettes and I unthinkingly offered to buy her some until I realized that this was only facilitating an unhealthy habit.
Then it struck me that I was now facilitating my own unhealthy habits. I returned to the hotel and asked them to remove the art in my room. As I waited I reached out to Carlos for his advice. He promptly replied saying ‘you are expelling negative things that no longer serve you…stay focus on your new life and perspective on things’.
As I reflected on Carlos’s wisdom, the art was being removed from my room by two hotel staff who explained that they often get similar requests. I asked why the hotel persisted to exhibit paintings that had shown to be unpleasant to hotel guests. They shrugged in off saying that they were told art was subjective and everyone sees it differently. I knew that they were not the right people to direct my complain towards so I simply asked them if the art in my room was typically a source of complaint then why continue to feature it.
With my awareness and knowledge I can begin the journey to control my ego-driven mind and emotions.
At the hotel, I packed for tomorrow’s return flight home. I have so many souvenirs from my Ayahuasca experience to arrange. My crested Soul Quest shot glass used for my first Ayahuasca ceremony, leaves that fell on me at the outdoor Ayahuasca ceremony and discarded ceremonial medicine flowers used by a Shuar traditional Medicine woman in the third and last Ayahuasca ceremony as well as my white plastic vomit bucket (that I learnt to call ‘my friend’) I used in the last and most productive Kambo ceremony.
As I lay in bed I was reminded of the haunting paintings from the wall marks that still outline their shapes. I was drawn to the two-dimensional expression of emotions through tone, light, shadow and the depiction a certain reality of an unknown time and place that still resonates today. Yet, I’m relieved that they are gone as are the feelings of anguish and fear that I experienced. They likely will return as I know it will take training and dedication to change my deeply rooted habits.
Nonetheless, I have awakened and it is a beautiful time in my life to learn what it takes to be present and to stay in the moment that puts distractions in their proper place. I now know that I can control my emotions when I stay focused on ‘my new life and perspective on things’ as Carlos has suggested. In other words, I have the tools to begin the journey to be my true-self and control my ego-driven mind and emotions.