After this intense day I couldn’t sleep despite the late hours and lack of sleep. It was the middle of the night, a few hours from first light of day. I went to a quiet outside area and laid on the damp grass while starring at the star-studded sky against a backdrop of silent darkness. Alone in the silence I was left with my thoughts. I was troubled by the question ‘am I real’, which was hurled at me after I stated that Krystal and self-titled ‘big momma’ needed to
Why did I so easily thrust myself into action despite the obvious danger?
I remember earlier in the evening when I calmly walked around the raging fire and stood with my back to ‘big momma’ and dangerously between her rage and the roaring fire. Why did my aggression take a passive aggressive form? Why wasn’t I angry when big momma attempted to push me in the fire? Why did I so easily thrust myself into action despite the obvious danger?
I knew she was surrounded by staff that had tried to physically subdue her a couple times. I knew that she was a large, physically powerful woman that was more than a match for a few staff. I also knew that her self-righteousness vitriol was gaining momentum. I agreed with her right to speak out against white privilege but not her choice of venue. I acted in the way that I thought would show big momma my indifference to what she was saying and doing.
It felt real to me. Maybe I could be more angry but I never really felt angry. I felt she was dealing with her trauma, as was Krystal, and that both women needed to do what they were doing.
Trump, as a world leader, feels a lot like putting the fox in charge of the critical long-term care of Mother Earth
Then I remembered another possible explanation for the question ‘am I real’? My five minute impromptu introduction to the group in which I stated, among others things that I didn’t like humanity. Perhaps showing empathy for the women who disrupted the final Ayahuasca ceremony seemed inconsistent with my scorn for our species. For me, however, I didn’t see any conflict on an intellectual basis.
I believe that collectively we are destroying the earth as well as causing species to disappear and allowing abject cruelty to animals. We are not rising to the challenges of our time. Trump and other morally compatible world leaders share the blame but are they responsible for having the power of their office or are we? Even totalitarian states need other actors beside the country’s figure head
Trump, as a world leader, feels a lot like putting the fox in charge of the long-term, critical, care of Mother Earth. As his financial influence and empire grows he carelessly clears the way for his rich friends to become richer from fossil fuel energy and unfettered exploration. Unfortunately Mother Earth is was already dying from abuse and neglect and while such abuse of wealth and power is rewarded, the disenfranchised are silenced by their systemic poverty and incarceration.
After a little while I noticed that I was snowing outside. This seemed a little weird since I knew it was not going below 20C tonight
At some point I decided to call it a night and I headed back to my room where I returned to bed. My thoughts kept me awake. I realized that I was not yet my real self. I felt like I am still who I’ve always been amplified by my fear of dying in misery. But the old me is now on a journey of transformation and the threads from this weekend will become new cloth.
All I know now is that I need to be more present and aware. I need to explore my every action and thought in order to nourish my true self. I need to let go of physical, emotional and mental constructs of my ego. It will take time and it will require making some changes but it felt right to imagine a time when my true self might be actualized.
After a little while I noticed that I was snowing outside. This seemed a little weird since I knew it was not going below 20C tonight. I was late and I was dead tired so I did a double take, maybe two or three. The windows definitely were ‘frosting’ over. I looked out the window and saw a large cloud tunnel that reminded me of a tornado but didn’t look like anything that I had seen on TV. The sky featured clouds spinning in a funnel shape against a backdrop of darker cumulus clouds.
The hallucination was so damn convincing that I was frightened like never before
I left my room in order to confront whatever awaited me. I touched the windows and they were not frosted or even cold. I was still a warm night. When I observed the sky, however, the funnel clouds continued spin violently but now stayed directly overhead. I had never seen a tornado or spinning funnel clouds so I didn’t know if this was a real danger or not.
I shivered as a presence washed over me and I was left with ‘goose bumps’. When I shivered again my entire body shivering and my flesh began to crawl, literally. Something coursed through the veins in my arm. I was having my first adverse hallucinogenic experience. I knew that nothing was not real and that it was better not to resist but the hallucination was so damn convincing that I was frightened like never before.
Everyone else was asleep. There was no other person that I could turn to for help. I was alone and Felt as desperate need to be with someone that knew the difference between real and not real. When I saw the retreat cat approach, which I had befriended, was that someone. After we exchanged greetings, however, he snarled at the darkness then disappeared in its cloak.
I began to feel claustrophobic as the 3D wall tapestries came alive As I went inside the large yurt tent where a few people slept, another shiver crested through my body. I tried to sleep but failed miserably. As I surveyed the room a rumpled sleeping bag transformed into a Jaguar which soon began to stalk me. I got up and walked around inside the yurt.
I began to feel claustrophobic as the 3D wall tapestries came alive. I went back outside into the darkness where a plant became a snake and another sleeping bag became a Jaguar. It felt just like I would imagine it would feel if they were rising from their graves, from their own deaths. As I approached another area and saw the movement under another rumpled sleeping bag I immediately feared the worst. Yet it wasn’t a menacing hallucinogenic experience, it was a person. A real person.
She worked as a Soul Quest as a helper and over the next hour before daylight she helped me. Big time. I stayed by her side as she did her early morning chores. She knew that I didn’t yet trust shadows and shapes. Then when I said that I could sleep, she rummaged to get me a warm, heavy blanket and a pillow. I feel asleep outdoors, on the floor beside her as the threatening clouds slowly passed and another day continued in the daylight.
It is better to admit to myself that I am not yet strong enough to face the uncertainty of my darkness.
When I awoke, she was still sleeping. I had returned to my room to freshen up for the day and pondered the events of the night. Nothing made sense to me but the synchronicity of last night’s experiences bubbled on the surface of my awareness as I showered and brushed my teeth. My quest to answer the question ‘was I real’ occurred at exactly when I didn’t know what was real and what wasn’t real suggested that I didn’t really know the difference.
My fear of last night’s hallucinations, something that I knew not to be real, I now see as a fear of loneliness, of being alone. I’ve lost a lot of heart connections with people over the years and now my life story has narrowed as my witnesses have vanished. Yet my real fear is the loneliness of disease, death and dying and this greatest of fears is still one that I need to face.
The insight from last night is a hopeful start, especially as it separates the ego from my true self and allows me to place more weight on my inner journey and less on externalities. My time now seems so precious, yet I continue to delay the inevitable confrontation. This transformative journey is a last hope of redemption, one in which I hope to become more fully conscious of my self and my life’s journey.
Yet, it all seems too little too late. Even my hope to learn how I can be more present, more in the moment in order to be more in synchronized with my true self. Perhaps it is better to admit to myself that I am not yet strong enough to face the uncertainty of my darkness. Perhaps I simple need to dive deeper in the recesses of my true self to better answer the question if I am real or not. I don’t know, yet.
Tonight is my third and last Ayahuasca ceremony. I’m not sure what to expect but I now know enough to not have too many expectations. I could not have imagined the experiences that I have had during the last few days. After all, I’ve experienced my death, my birth/rebirth as well as cosmic love. I’m getting more and more accepting of the unexpected although not having expectations is still a struggle for me. The very act of consciously letting go only serves to make me more aware of my more deeply-rooted expectations.
As the group sits in a circle around the fire, the Ayahuasca is prepared and blessed. Everyone is fixated on the two indigenous healers; Taita Pedro Divila, a no-nonsense Shaman and traditional indigenous physician from Columbia, and Teresa Shiki, a gentle but powerful Shuar traditional medicine woman from Ecuador. After the blessing there are four separate ceremonies that Pedro gives each of us, while Teresa stays close to the blessed ceremonial plants.
It takes time to go around once, there is a lot of work and a lot of us. Taita takes his time while giving so fully of himself that he soon becomes drenched in his own sweat. The group is at a different place now. When we first sat around a fire, I remember how animated and engaged we all were. Now I see everyone focused on their journey, their traumas and the insights they are encountering as well as the plans they have made to depart tomorrow or, perhaps, how they will cope with the world that they left behind now that they have changed and the world has not. It is a lot to process.
Now I see my age as a state of mind. The price of admission to a more fully conscious life and more accepting embrace of my own death and dying.
For me, it was all the above but mostly about how happy I was despite the struggles and upheaval of the past few days. It is too early to know what all this will mean in my life but I am beginning to understand it less as a transitory and more as a transformative experience. I want to change. I want to incorporate the love that I have experienced into my life. I need to. If I don’t then I am dead inside and, I believe, my life will holds no beauty, no wonder. Now that I have awakened and my consciousness expanded this would be a life not worth living.
Maybe these first feelings and impressions will fade as my body processes the ceremonial plants. I hope not but that would be fine too. Everything changes so this, too, will fold into something else. I only know what I’m feeling today. I believe that my authentic self has been fully awakened and that I’ve begun experience my life differently. I’ve begun to transform from a worrier to a warrior who no longer fears death, or life, from an easily irritated person to a calmer, more reflective person and from a non-believer to a believer.
It is such a beautiful and joyful experience. I never thought that such an experience would be still possible at my age. As I approach seventy years of age, the simple fact is that I wasn’t ready for the opportunities that presented themselves earlier in my life. I was too engaged in my life and what other people thought of me. I was ego-driven and unable to understand that things and people who don’t accept the real me don’t matter. Now I see my age as a state of mind. The price of admission to a more fully conscious life and more accepting embrace of my own death and dying.
As an agnostic, who believes that nothing can be known about the existence or nature of ‘God’, the recent spiritual experiences have been especially challenging.
For now, however, I am struggling to understand my spiritual experiences. I’ve never had a spiritual experience or ‘come to god moment’ despite my years in a Catholic schools run by Nuns and Christian Brothers. I was taught some of the verses and scriptures but none of the love. I’ve learnt to fear Nuns, dread the Brothers and reject Catholicism. I understood the emotional and physical abuse and, in time, knew others who were also sexually abused. I could not shape-shift into having Faith, or belief in an unjust god. Eventually I saw people as people, not ‘god’s representatives on Earth’.
Before this weekend, I’ve judged a religion by how well it demonstrates its religiosity. For instance, no religion that I know, with perhaps the exception of Jainism, has shown a loving, compassion way forward for non-human life forms and nature. Yet, now I see that this is another distraction, a mental fabrication. An ‘us versus them’ distinction. In time, I hope to embrace the belief that there are no such barriers between any of us. Maybe I will also be able to not judge people’s choices, especially their choice regarding how they seek to express their spiritual light.
The overwhelming love and acceptance that I have felt from the Amazonian traditional medicines and breathwork has been given me an overwhelming sense of openness and oneness. I am left to wonder if this overwhelming love was god or god-like. I felt the need to show my acceptance and love before I received ‘cosmic’ love and acceptance. I waiver between the influence of the Amazonian traditional medicines and a God-like force, one that I sometimes call divine and other times I call light and love. I don’t know what it is but it is now on my ‘bucket list’.
While it is true that I’ve had a spiritual experience I don’t make the connection that many do to their preferred ‘god’. I fundamentally view religion as branded morality. The Bible, the Koran and the Torah, to me, are not much more than a means of teaching morality and controlling the uneducated and gullible. Such organizations strikes me as perfectly suited to the faithful who are willing to be lead by the axiom ‘do as I say, not as I do’.
I take these thoughts with me as I begin to experience the pull of Ayahuasca
As the first two purification circles are completed by Pedro and Teresa, they begin to prepare for the blessing. It is now dark and everyone is journeying inward with their thoughts. When the blessing was given to me, I felt the energy wave cover me as the smoke from Pedro blanketed me. The last circle wasn’t a circle. We were told to line up for the Ayahuasca and taught how to ceremonially receive it. After everyone had consumed their medicine I stayed outside, under the stars.
I have no intentions for the first time and as the medicine slowly takes hold I become outraged by the fact that plant-based Ayahuasca is illegal in most countries. Have we given up this right, this freedom? Why does the government want to stop its people from experiencing Ayahuasca? Does it impede the pharmaceutical industry or make all of us less prone to the industrial work ethic? Maybe. After all, we are living in what we consider to be a modern world, yet our primitive fear-based nature is stopping all of us from experiencing a more conscious life, one out of touch with the natural, life-sustaining world where nature and all life is part of who we are, not separated by our greed and by how others see us.
Here I feel safe and loved. I am accepted for how I act, not how I look or the trauma that I am suffering. It is also about acceptance for who I am as a person, a flawed person, who is on a path of enlightenment. It is so beautiful that I can only express its beauty in terms of finding harmony after a lifetime of feeling there was no meaning to my life as an individual. A life where universal love and light exists in each of us but that our true self is a key, perhaps the key, to unlocking receptivity and openness to that birthright. I take these thoughts with me as I begin to experience the pull of Ayahuasca.
As she stood with the intention of pushing me into the fire six men wrestled her to the ground. After some considerable effort they managed to carry her away.
I felt that I was in another blissful state at first. I was comfortable after the two previous experience. I knew what to expect and made the mistake of expecting the same type of things to happen once again. Everyone was blissful. No one was throwing up or having a psychotic event. No one spoke. It seemed like everything had been said and almost everything had been experienced. I recognized familiar faces of including Krystal and a large, powerful black women that referred to herself as ‘’big momma’’. I basked in the serenity.
Later it turned. ‘Big momma’ had transformed from a joyous person engaged by the music to a warrior. She defiantly stood by the fire and called most of us out for our ‘white privileged lives’. She was maybe 15’ from be but I didn’t react to her anger, I saw it as her trauma, her journey. At the same time I agreed with what she was saying. As she persisted and her anger grew, the staff engaged her. The white men made matters worst despite their gentle approach to calming and silencing her.
When the person on my other side began to express his anger to me. I told him my approach and her accepted this for a while. However, as ‘big momma’ threatened people, he wanted to intervene but decided to move away. I also move but just a little further around the fire. Her anger was now impacting everyone, so I carelessly went between the fire and where she was seated, then turned my back to her. As she stood with the intention of pushing me into the fire six men wrestled her to the ground. After some considerable effort they managed to carry her away,
I will need to reflect deeply on the question ‘was I real?’
I felt stupid but also grateful for the quiet. I moved closer but not close to Krystal. I hadn’t seen her since her psychotic event and wanted to know if she was in a good space, or not. After we exchanged pleasantries, I told her that I was relieved that there was quiet and that I needed to continue my journey. She, however, wanted to continue to engage me despite being told my a helper not to talk. I moved away a little but she persisted. I told her to be quiet or else I would need to move further away. At first she was quiet but when I glanced at her I saw that she was touching herself. It shook me. She called to me but I moved away.
After a little while I saw that she was still engaged so I began to try and understand what had happened tonight and if how I reacted is teaching me another lesson. In time, I felt that how I reacted to ‘big momma’ showed that I do not live my own advice, something that I found to be truly humbling. It showed me how far I had to go before I could even think about giving anyone any advice and that I had the heart of a do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do sanctimonious hypocrite.
The way I reacted to Krystal, however, was different. I felt that she was turning my love into something sexual, something base not something elevated, like I had wanted. When I was her age I wondered if I was any different with the people that expressed their love for me. I had said that I loved her but also rejected her, not once but twice. In time, I saw that it wasn’t her that I rejected as it was her behaviour. I was judging her issues, her behaviour despite a lifetime of being judged by others for mine.
I wanted to treat others the way I wanted to be treated but I wasn’t able to do so when it mattered to Krystal and ‘big momma’. I wanted to not be hypocritical. Yet all I could do was imagine what I might have done and to try to be more in touch with my own behaviour. I will need to reflect deeply on the question ‘was I real?’
A preposterously absurd idea compelled me. Could I actually utilize my breathing, something I and all of us do all of the time and have largely taken for granted, in order to have a more conscious life?
Using our bodies to illuminate the recesses of our minds is my quintessential definition of beauty
The idea ran contrary not only to my cultural norms but also my conditioned sense of reason. After experiencing the therapeutic and transcendent powers of Amazonian plant medicines, I am now about to experience something within my own body, within my own control that could, possible, be life-changing.
The mere thought of connecting to a deeper consciousness without ingesting anything, even plants and frog secretions, was a stretch for me. I was never into drugs and even this weekend is new territory for me. I guess I’ve come late to the party. I need to experience it to actually believe it but, at nearly 70 years of age, I am now ready to experience it.
I step into the unknown with one solitary thought which its that using our bodies to illuminate the recesses of our minds is my quintessential definition of beauty.
Drum Therapy, Meditation and Earthing are all well established phenomenons that find synergy in Holotropic breathing
Although, we were told to synchronize our breathing with the music, nothing was said about the drum beat. It wasn’t necessary. Drumming places each of us in the present moment and helps connect us to our core in ways understood by our ancestors. Drum therapy, an ancient healing approach used by various cultures, has long been part of our history as are the feelings of euphoria and well-being it induces. Rhythmic drumming affects our state of mind and results is an altered state of consciousness as the brain’s electrical state changes from our normally alert and focused beta waves to the more receptive and relaxed Alpha Waves.
For Holotropic Breathwork, we were instructed to utilize short, intense breaths followed by long, deep breaths with the goal of achieving an altered state where self exploration and inner-healing was possible. I consider Holotropic breathwork to be a variation of the deep meditation or relaxation breathing technique, which also requires breath focus in order to disengage from distracting thoughts and attain insights into life. As well, both deep meditation and Holotropic breathing can have positive physiological and emotional health benefits such as slowing the heartbeat and stabilize or lowering blood pressure.
We were over fifty people in a relatively small area who were told to keep on our mats. At first I thought this space economy was entirely due to the space limitations but there may be another reason as well. Laying on the mat connects us to the Earth through electrical frequencies in a phenomena knows as ‘Earthing’. The Earth has a 7.8 Hz frequency, the same frequency as Alpha waves which are associated with deep relaxation, and as we ‘ground’ ourselves to the Earth we are in electrical synchronization.
The music started slowly as did my deep breathing.
My goal was to managed the best that I could for as long as I could. I definitely wanted to leave knowing how to reconstruct the experience at home so I was motivated to have a full altered-state experience. I enjoyed the music and the fact that I had my eyes closed and therefore not self-conscious or distracted.
I wasn’t comfortable laying on the ground for long. Once the drum beat intensified I was on my feet, despite the fact with no great toe on my left foot balance was an issue. I simply spread my legs more for better balance and, suprisingly, my gyrating body did the rest until I was able to stand tall. I’ve always had 100% dance enthusiasm to offset my zero dance skills. I can’t remember ever becoming so animated while ‘dancing’, at least, since the last time.
Once the participant instruments were distributed it became almost party-like. When I lost my dance beat because I was air playing the drums or singing the Spanish lyrics with having a singing voice or knowledge of Spanish, it was the sound of nearby bongo drum that allowed me to return to the beat.
Each of us is on a journey. Death is part of that journey
I reached up knowing it wasn’t really ‘up’ and that there was no heaven or God in Heaven. None of these things mattered to me as I experience my death. The music compelled me to stand tall and reach for the sky, much like my first Ayahuasca experience. Yet different, in that, it had more to do with my death than my spiritual enlightenment.
I felt that I was leaving my body on earth and transcending into a non-physical existence, one that promised love and light. I felt relieved to shed my body, like a snake might shed his/her skin, because I had also outgrown it and no longer felt that it served me. I had died because I am mortal but I also continued to live because I am also immortal. I lost my human form, but, in my etherial form I soared into another life, another dimension. I don’t know or particularly care if it is real, or not. The unknown was joyous, not fearful.
The cynical reader will be dismissive but I am not interested in his/her journey. They, hopefully, will have their own life-altering experiences to untangle. I am focused on the fact that my fear of dying has since ebbed as I now can imagine something more than the suffering and misery of death. It is enough to frame this upcoming time with something other than despair and bleakness.
Then it happened. I experience my own birth/re-birth
At one point I felt the need to lay down on the mat. It wasn’t a conscious decision. Despite the 30C heat, I curled up into a fetal position and felt as if I was in my Mother’s womb. I didn’t know this was even a possibility so it took a little time to accept what was actually happening to me. At first I was self conscious then my self-awareness dissipated as I let go.
In the womb I felt warm and comfortable until the pushing started and everything became topsy-turvy. My routine, my known world was changing and I felt confused and anxious. I didn’t experience much pain, just a lot of discomfort. My most salient thought was that I felt squeezed and claustrophobic for most of the time but also safe.
I also empathized with my Mother. She was having a different experience. I felt or, perhaps, sensed her pain. It came in waves that almost begrudgingly propelled me forward. I didn’t know what to expect but that didn’t matter, in fact it was a blessing, as my warm, wet bubble was burst when I arrived, like ‘a stranger in a strange land’ where the temperature was bitterly cold and breathing was a skill.
The miracle of what I have experienced should be a birthright of every child who faces life’s gauntlet of soul crushing, mind-numbing struggles
The pharmacological industry is desperately trying to understand how to utilize Amazonian ceremonial plants to the point where they are ignoring native rights. A familiar story of western greed, sadly. A purely scientific understanding is showing signs of resuscitation after years of dormancy.
Yet, as always, our culture is deeply rooted in fixed beliefs and change is not inevitable when fear and greed can be exploited. As a 17 year I saw the world as organized around the all-powerful military-industrial complex and at nearly 70 I see the same thing as well as the trauma and suicide culture it has spawned.
Soul Quest sits on the edge of the known world facing uncharted seas and a ‘brave, new world’. Our world today is crying. Not just for respect and stewardship, but for sanity, as well as wisdom. It is a time when choices are being made and we all stand on the frontier that Soul Quest and others have led us to. For ultimately it is not about Soul Quest, it is about our freedom to live in harmony with our birth rights of non-judgemental love and curiosity.
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.
Yesterday’s Rapè and Kambo medicines helped calm and focus my intentions today. Yet, nothing could truly prepare me for my first Ayahuasca experience today. I had seen You tube videos and read everything I could but when I talked with those who had experience it then I realized how individual an experience it was. I made my peace with the fact that I might have a medical issue of some sort. Now it was time to put the past behind me and to embrace the enormity of the moment.
The Ayahuasca ceremony started with all 50 something participants in a large Yurt tent siting in two circles, one encompassing the other. I was in the inner circle. As the medicine preparation was being finalized we were told that under no circumstances should a ’newbie’ receive more than one tablespoon of Ayahuasca. More can be given later but the first experience must not be beyond a person’s ability to manage.
As I held my one tablespoon of Ayahuasca, however, I felt that in might not be a full tablespoon. I compared this with those sitting closest to me and every one agreed that I should ask for a top-up. I caught the attention of a busy server and clumsily said ‘I need a bit more’ and ended up with a full serving of two tablespoons. I hesitated as others stoically gulped down their servings.
I decided to fully embraced this unfathomable, transformative journey and gulped down my medicine with trepidation.
As I surveyed the tent, I saw people settle back into their respective mats. Many seemed to know what to do. I had long imaged what thoughts I would entertain before walking off the edge of the known world and, now, I had none. I closed my eyes and breathed deeply, evenly. I soon saw elaborate designs not too dissimilar to the surrounding trippy wall tapestries. When I opened my eyes I felt that I needed to vomit and as I did, the hallucinations stopped.I focused on my body which seemed to be under siege by the rapidly advancing Ayahuasca.
I felt enclosed. I was irritated by the sounds and movements of others. Some were vomiting while others moaned a deep cathartic-sounding, almost primal moan. It was too much for me. I was unable to claim my own space. I decided it was better not to suffer this situation and attempted to leave. I started to get up but stumbled. A SQ helper steadied me and, together, we began to walk away with no destination in mind.
I feel connected to the essence of the fire and the night sky.
The helper asked if I wanted to sit by the fire. I knew immediately that this is where I needed to be. When I saw the night sky and felt grass and dirt between the paths of artificial turf then didn’t want anything except to stay where I was. As I felt the warmth I wanted to get closer. It was a cooler now that the sun had set. I regretted the fact I was in still in short sleeves and shorts after today’s 32C blast of full-on summer heat.
I was cautioned not to get too close but during this evening I continued to feel a strong urge to be in the fire or at least be closer than I was allowed to be. For now, however, I settled into my experience with Ayahuasca as my first shift in consciousness was elegantly unsettling. All of the SQ staff that I had met yesterday looked like me when I was younger. I became to refer to someone by their real name but affixed my name to theirs, i.e., Peter Craig. I didn’t know at the time but, in retrospect, I had started my journey.
As I looked at the night sky I became mesmerized. It was oddly comforting to imagine early man sitting in front of a fire and starred into the night sky. It was more that a means to eat cooked food and share stories of the day or of the past, it was the time to ponder the forces that shaped his/her world and to seek clarity to the meaning of life or death. My journey has some of the same unfathomable questions and today, despite everything we now know, we still do not know what we do not know so, in many ways, the mysteries run just as deep.
My default explanation for the mystery of the cosmos and man’s destructive nature was an elaborate deceit.
I soon saw fellow participants as collaborators in the ‘masquerade’. I felt that they were not newbies and knew exactly what I was experiencing and what I would inevitably experience. I wasn’t upset or unsettled by all this and in some ways felt that they were there for me. When things got crazy I would physically touch a person to see if they were real or not. Occasionally I would speak a few words of encouagement to a fellow participant.
It felt like I was the only one not in on the joke. An elaborate deceit in which staff and fellow participates conspired to manipulate the newbies by their shifting presence and a range of activities from throwing up, moaning or resting peacefully. All part of the soundtrack that needed to ignore in order to heard the music speak to me. The soundtrack felt like a guide to how I should feel and act. Sometime the words told me directly and other times it was the overall feeling of the music itself.
I had always imagined life an elaborate deceit. My version of life being a game in which humans and nature need to try to co-exist with the resources and limitations provided. As we evolve, I feel that humanity, as well as individuals face choices which are often subverted by special interests and our own conditioning as tribal animals. Yet balance is also within each of us, even the greedy who want more that their share.
The consequences that I imagine is a reset for humanity and another chance to get it right. I know that nature is resilient and that the real environmental burden today is not only our pollution but also our population. Less people equals less pollution and the opportunity for nature to have a reprieve from today’s onslaught. When we fail and mankind restarts to ‘play’ at the very beginning, or perhaps before of our evolutionary start.
Now I began to experience the multi-level Ayahuasca game
This game that I imagine is a game of life and death. Not my life or death or yours but the life or death of humanity. There are choices and there are consequences. Our failure to find balance with other life forms and our ecosystem has real consequences that acting against our better nature will not absorb indefinitely.
I’ve described my Ayahuasca experience to others as a video game. At the time I imagined being inside a multi-level progress game that required passing one level before proceeding to the next. Every misstep, however, erased my memory so I needed to bring fresh understanding to the problem in order to advance. It was extremely frustrating to realized that on successive ‘turns’ I returned to the same spot, same point that I was unable to overcome.
I began to see the game as a series of steps that I needed to take in order to have my ‘intention’ that I used to inform this ceremony. I asked ‘Please Mother Ayahuasca, gentle show me how to embrace my inevitable death’. I had heard that the medicine was powerful so I wanted to be respectful and polite, as well as cautious. The fact that I was sincere and my intention was real helped me to let go of expectations and embrace the uncertainty of the game that I found myself trapped within.
Eventually I resumed the game in a more constructive manner
On one level I began to understand the connectivity embraced by the similar looking people around me. I felt connected to all life including the earth below me and the stars above me. When I embraced my oneness with all life I also saw that I was no longer surrounded by nature but a part of nature, no different than other animals except for my relationship to a collective force that was out of balance with all other life.
When I felt centered I went to another level, in my mind. Although, it was my body that often dictated or, at least, prompted my progress. On another level I felt that I needed to stand up and look skyward despite my instability. The North star demanded my attention, my loyalty. Sometimes I didn’t make it. Sometimes I only made it long enough to resume my previous earth-bound position.
Eventually, I stood up with my head back and my arms outstretched like a converted atheist who has found the spiritual force in life, at least, in his life. For, much to my surprise, this is exactly what happened to me as I felt electrified by an all encompassing love. Yet, I wanted more. I couldn’t see any image of a deity or a presence in the sky. I logically didn’t believe that it even existed but nor would I have believed that I would feel such an overwhelming love from the North Star.
My desire to see a divine presence took another turn
As I lay on the ground I again felt the dirt and grass beneath me. I placed a few blades of grass and a couple pinches of dirt on me. I had lost all semblance of social-consciousness. I didn’t care what others thought about my behaviour. I only cared to stay in the moment for as long as possible. I felt that the game was over. That I had finished the journey which Mother Ayahuasca felt that I needed to undertake.
Theresa, a traditional plant medicine woman, is part of the SQ team for the summer. We had a one-on-one session together where she scrubbed by skin with ceremonial plants and told me that I was fit. I wanted more, at first, then realized that there might not have been more and I should be grateful. Now, she appeared suddenly and smiled down at me. I felt her energy as she warmly told me that I was a campeón (champion). I wanted to know more but she just smiled and then moved on.
Throughout the whole experience I struggled to understand what was real and what was not real. I still didn’t know what to believe and what I had to do. I had lost my compass. Then, the server who had already given me twice my suggested Ayahuasca allowance bent a knee and said that I should seek out someone whose name was Jeanette, or possibly Ginette. He said that all my questions would be answered by this person and somehow planted the idea that this person was God, or at least God-like.
As I lay back I again glanced skyward and saw a sign of a divine intelligence.
Across from me in the human circle around the fire were only a few others and people would typically come a go except for one or two others. One was a lean, long-haired mid-thirties man who sit almost motionless, who, later, would describe himself as a seeker. Another was a large, joyful woman that exuded confidence and power, who, while seated ramrod upright used her hands and arms to dance with the music. Both were beautiful. Both were real.
I no longer felt the compulsion to stand. I was content to feel connected to both the earth and the cosmos. i felt their respected life forces of nurture and nature as originating from the same source of love. I lay back and closed my eyes as the music fell over me like a warm blanket on this cool night. Yet, I still wanted to see more.
I still wanted to see a deity or, at least some visual sign of superior life force or intelligence. When I opened my eyes and next glanced at the sky I saw none of the ever-present airplanes traveling to and fro over this well travelled city. it took a moment before I saw what appeared to me as an alignment of the stars. I took another moment before I noticed all the stars were shaped like a necklace. I thought this was another illusion but one that I felt that I could embrace as a sign of a divine intelligence.
I also realized that this world is not real, at least in the physical sense of reality.
Quantum mechanics says that reality is what we choose it to be. A photon, the smallest discrete amount or quantum of electromagnetic radiation, can act like a bullet-like particle or a rippling wave and that it’s configuration isn’t predetermined. Even time is not how we were raised to think of it. So who is to say what is real and what isn’t?
Today turned my sense of reality upside down. It made me realize that there is so much to learn from this precious world. I don’t know what I don’t know except it is likely more that I know now. So it isn’t a leap for me to see myself as an insignificant part of the natural world or to appreciate that I’ve experienced infinite love today.
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.
My last post was all about knowing my ‘intention’ and the virtue of being more trusting and accepting. I now see these traits, however, not as ‘intentions’ but rather doors I need to open to have a richer, more meaningful experience with the psychoactive Amazonian sacrament, Ayahuasca. My ‘intention’ is to feel connected to all life forms, to cut through my ego and the illusion of self-hood. I want to believe in something greater than myself. I want to experience oneness or at least a lack of separation with the cosmos.
Although this intention is consistent with my beliefs, I do not have faith in this belief. I need to experience oneness to truly believe in oneness. I believe that there must be a greater meaning to life. Yet I do not know that there is any meaning to life. These beliefs are fragile yet I am trying to build upon them in order to adopt a healthy outlook for this stage of my life, something that will serve me as my body and mind slowly fail. I’m hoping that my Ayahuasca experience will guide during my dying as well as my death.
I need to reframe my view towards the cultural taboos of death and dying in order to find my own path to a full life, no matter its form or function. Otherwise my options will inevitable become a simple choice between a vegetative state and an assisted suicide. In either case these choices are a retreat from life and, at this early point, I would rather find a way to embrace my death and the modification of my life form. I believe that I can accept, perhaps even embrace, the requisite pain and suffering if I felt, truly felt, part of something greater.
Psychological preparation, to me, means to reframe my reality by emphasizing the positive and thereby minimizing the negative.
It is easy for me to get absorbed by a negative perspective since I tend to worry about even subtleties in a conversation or a smile. In a post mortem of an exchange, I can become consumed by something I should have said or done. It becomes a destructive habit when I cannot alter its course. A positive perspective is not as reflexive, for me, and requires an effort to continually reinstate but once I do then it feels relatively natural to wholeheartedly embrace.
So as I prepare for my upcoming Ayahuasca experience I will attempt to reframe my medical concerns with a more positive outlook. For my first stop on my psychedelic journey I don’t want my medical condition to be a source of anxiety. I believe that any undo stress would undermine the efficacy of the Ayahuasca ceremony. I believe that the staff of Soul Quest will provide me with all the care I need to feel at ease. They are prepared to handle medical emergencies and their location is not far from emergency care. I believe that the confidence that I now have will allow me to let go of my fears and trust in the process.
This doesn’t mean that I will diminish the importance of my medical concerns but, rather, place their value on a lower shelf in my mind’s eye. This is one way for me to let go. Another way is to appreciate the positive advantages that I already have that will allow me to trust by embracing such assets. The first blessing is the comfort and safety I feel from the Soul Quest Ayahuasca Church of Mother Earth, which offers a morality beyond Catholicism, perhaps beyond Religion.
It also might be also be easier for me to let go because I am now retired and live a solitary life in a remote area.
As a child I was never aware of a world outside of cities. Now, life in a remote area surrounded my nature is my home. I am treated by the wonder of each day, each season as life struggles to survive and proliferate. I morn the lost of a tree and the death of a bird. I celebrate the arrival of bees and hornets and remain hopeful that bats will also return one day. I immerse myself in the forest to gain not only an appreciation of nature but also more compassion to all life and all forms of life.
I have already been detached from the centripetal forces that harness the collective prowess of modern society. I have moved away from family and friends and the community that once nurtured me. Although this is a double edged sword, I relish the benefit of no longer needing to bear the weigh of the expectations of others. I have been liberated by qualifying as unimportant to those that once superficially cultivated my interest and involvement. It was almost emancipating to discover how few true friends I had.
In preparation for the Ayahuasca ceremony I have disengaged from the internet and the news cycle. This simple choice has allowed me to focus more on myself and my life. I know that news organizations increase viewership and therefore profits from bad news, especially breaking news that is live. I still believe that mankind can no longer reverse climate change or the forces of the fossil fuel industries but, now, I am reframing my perspective by choosing to look at the problem from another perspective. I now realize that besides changing myself there is nothing I can do to alter the destructive course of mankind.
My personal transcendence is important to me but societal transcendence should also be I’m portent to everyone.
The use of Ayahuasca by westerners and by western drug companies raises concerns of cultural appropriation and corporate gold digging. Western medicine and practitioners rarely acknowledge native rights after centuries of native sacramental use. This traditional medicine is now being exploited in a similar way that early explorers exploited advanced native civilizations that they plundered for the pursuit of wealth. A western sense of entitlement has dogged native people ever since wooden ships allowed Europeans unfettered access.
Ayahuasca is known for the treatment of chronic low grade inflammation and oxidative stress, which is believed to be involved in the development of ADHD, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, heart failure, autism and many more debilitative diseases and conditions. Is it any wonder why Soul Quest and the the indigenous people of the Amazon Basin have embraced this traditional spiritual medicine?
I have worked with native communities in Canada and know the power of native plant knowledge from the seemingly miraculous healing treatment of a Rastafarian who lived off the land, deep in the tropical rainforest. I know that my upcoming ceremony will not be given in a traditional manner by an authentic Shaman but I also know that many Shamans are just trying to capitalize on the Western surge in demand.I will support the work of Soul Quest as I believe that they, at least, have embraced the native spirit and adopted the right path for true enlightenment. I am grateful for the Ayahuasca plant and believe each user should give it the respect it deserves.
Even the notable Dennis McKenna, an ethnopharmacologist, doesn’t believe native peoples “own” the exploitation rights to Ayahuasca. While this could be technically true it doesn’t feel right to me since the Western concept of owning nature is more about the legality of exploration than morality. When McKenna adds that “ayahuasca knowledge is a piece of human patrimony that has been stewarded for a very long time by native peoples’ it suggests that native people will likely continue to be pushed aside from their heritage and share of commercial profits.
The discovery of Ayahuasca required the combining and preparing of two separate plants: Banisteriopsis caapi vine, a MAO inhibitor, and the leaves of either Psychotria viridis (chacruna) or Diplopterys cabrerana (chagropanga or chaliponga). I’m not sure how long it would take an ethnopharmacologist to make tea from combining these plants and to create the understanding of their potency that we have today. It has taken native people centuries. The Amazon basin and all its life forms is well know to the native tribes but likely will appear much like a jungle to most Westerners. Having Ayahuasca commercially exploited seems wrong unless natives also benefit from an acceptable share of the profits.
The Church where I will soon take Ayahuasca offers a master class in Ethics for our shared World by acknowledging our failure as a people to demonstrate openness and connection to all life.
I joined this American Church not simply because they offer an Ayahuasca ceremony but also because their Doctrine speaks to me. I believe that it is transformative. It talks about Mother Earth in a loving and compassionate manner, the rights of all life forms and the responsibility we all have to live in harmony. This, for me, is more than a breath of fresh air in an already polluted world. It is a beacon of light at a time of darkness when the rampant environmental destruction is poisoning all of us.
It is also a different way to think about all life on Earth. The Ayahuasca plant is part of nature. Despite differences between human and non-human life, if all life is connected then we both are part of the cosmos and are nurtured by the same sun, rain, and soil. My empathy for plants and other life forms increases the more I step down from the self-proclaimed human perch of superiority.
Our species has been socialized to consider ourselves a higher life form despite the fact that we are in awe of the power and properties of this plant. Yet many will still judge harshly any suggestion that the Ayahuasca plant could possible consider itself a higher life form given our species increasing demands and dependence after centuries of ceremonial use.
Soul Quest’s manifesto is central to fostering of a healthy, respectful world where all life has its own rights, like we do. Where other life forms have importance onto themselves and are valued, not tortured and destroyed in the service of mankind. We might be able to stop the environmental disaster our species has created but then, if we hope to maintain the balance, we need to transcend our animal instincts and embrace our higher consciousness.
It feels like I am making progress
Reframing my reality helps me to stay positive. This is something I have always done but with mixed success. When I also add tuning out of the news, which allows me to see a bigger picture, and letting go of my medical concerns I believe that I will be more than ready to accept the energy and guidance of Ayahuasca.
Whenever I fail to let go or trust I am reminded that I am far from perfect and still have a long way to go. Nonetheless, it feels like I am making progress. Soon I will know for sure. Soon I will need to trust in others and the guidance of the plant medicine. My well-being is out of my control and I will need to go with the flow or else the experience will be especially difficult for me. I have no choice but to surrender.
I believe that I am in a good place. Now I am more consciously aware of my actions and my inactions. I immediately sense when I do something happens or I fail to do something which changes the balance that I seek for nature. Respecting all life forms give me a different way to think about native rights and life on Earth. Respecting myself gives me a way to transcend into whatever I need to become when Ayahuasca takes me higher.
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.
There was a time in my life when I wasn’t harnessed to medications or bothered by my health. Yet, in some ways, little has changed since my youth. I am still the same person with a zest for life and a curiosity that, on occasion, drove me to risk life and limb on a whim. I no longer feel invulnerable but I am still willing to act with recklessness in order to gain validation. My recklessness now, however, is more calculated and the validation that I seek is more personal.
I seek no one’s approval nor do I hold any expectation, except perhaps to find my own place in an indifferent world. I have had to make my own way in life and somewhere along the line I bought into Canadian version of the American dream. In the world that I know the meaning of life is rooted more in social conditioning, status and biological urges than in spiritual growth or pursuit of a higher consciousness. The virtue of my life is relatively meaningless. I was raised in an educational and religious preparatory system that made me a willing and unthinking producer/consumer.
Other parts of the world this understanding of purpose is reversed. In such cases my lack of spirituality is scorned as a wasted life. Such derision is difficult to defend, especially for Westerners, as the virtues of our materialism and power are readily dismissed as mere distractions and folly.
The fearlessness of my youth inspires me to face old age with bravado
My medication has been working fine after years of adjustments and refinements. I don’t want to put my system under any unnecessary pressure that might upset the balance that I have struggled to achieve. The mere thought of doing anything that would possibly harm my health is upsetting. Yet, I know that taking Ayahuasca will mean that I must. The older that I’ve become, the higher the stakes have become.
There is a line, however, for me. I am prepared to give up my journey if and when I feel that a psychedelic experience would negatively impact my life or the lives of my loved ones. Despite such deep convictions I often fine that this line can become a high-wire balancing act for me. I am equally compelled by my belief that we are all alone, in life and death, and that this is my journey.
I don’t know for certain that stopping my Blood medication could impact my health. My doctor and pharmacist couldn’t say one way or the other. Maybe I will be able to tolerate the stoppage. Admittedly nothing bad happened when I abstained from Metoprolol Tartrate (75mg x 2 p/day) for two half dosage days and three full dosage days. Maybe my dilemma rests within myself and my persistent worry that I am overly optimistic about my own state of my health.
Every time I visit a doctor I feel like a gambler, who knows that one day his luck will run out.
I am not as strong as I like to think that I am. I know that, at my age, my drive to undertake this psychedelic journey is uncommon. Mostly, nearly 70 year olds are focused on becoming 70 years old. Yet, I believe that exploring my fears is a way to ensure that my personal growth never stops and that I continue to have a quality life.
From this perspective, being normal is not that attractive. Whether or not it is normal for a nearly 70 year old to tamper with the balancing act being performed by his medication after 30 years of refinements and find-tuning doesn’t mean much to me. In fact, I have come to see stopping my medication as just another cost for my journey.
I feel like I am healthy, not just for a 70 year old but when compared to any age group above 50. I know this because since retiring in 2001 I have had a partner who I have come to value as my health and spiritual guru. She has opened my eyes to see an alternative to the pursuit of status quo and ego gratification. She has lit the fuse which has awakened me. It has given me the courage to try another path in life, one that was largely inside me but beyond my imagination, my conditioning to see as a viable lifestyle. Nonetheless, she is not comfortable with my journey or the dangers it presents.
I never spent much time in self-reflection or investing in my inner journey. I don’t know if I know my self. I suspect that I don’t. Likely my unconscious state knows deeply buried secrets of my conscious state. I don’t believe that I have such wounds but I also know that I have been conditioned by my culture and society without knowing consciously that I was being conditioned.
I had no role models except what I could see in my world. I never saw alternative paths in life as worthy. My parents, my siblings were all to busy with their own lives to mentor or guide me through my turbulent times. Instead, I turned to education, to my passions and I bought into what I felt would make me happy. I pursued the American-Canadian dream one step up the ladder at a time. I never thought outside the box. So, I guess, my Journey is all about second chances and maybe a little bit about redemption.
I now believe that not pursuing this experience would be one of my greatest regrets.
If I am a gambler thinking that my luck has run out then it wouldn’t be a stretch for me to also think that it wasn’t luck that has kept me in the game. I have always had a more or less healthy lifestyle so maybe my good health is a reasonable expectation. I do know, however, I now have the courage to connect with my inner self. If I don’t take a calculated risk now I will likely always feel that I have failed my own inner imperative, my own journey of inner awareness and consciousness.
While I accept responsibility for my own beliefs and actions I am also thankful for my adult son, who first inspired me on this journey with his own experiences with Ayahuasca. His journey of self discovery and honesty not only answered the question of how I was going to celebrate my 70th birthday but also encouraged me to undertake a year or so of consuming the literature that I felt compelled to absorb. During this time I was drawn to books such as Realms Of The Human Unconscious by Stanislav Grof and How To Change Your Mind by Michael Pollan. I was also guided by the experience and compassion of a growing community.
My fears sometimes make it difficult for me to let go of control and stop over-thinking
First, a Canadian flight to Florida caught my attention. It was the same airline, similar route as what I would take going to my Ayahuasca ceremony. Despite a few minor injuries as the potential for a more serious incident was averted by the competent flight crew. Nonetheless, it must have been a traumatizing experience. The plane made an emergency landing in New Jersey. The emergency chute was used to exit the plane. The passengers were given a $200 travel credit to compensate for the delay and likely to also avoid a class action law suit.
Given the impact of a lengthy delay associated with arranging another plane and crew to travel from Canada $200 seems like a minimal gesture, especially for a corporation with revenue in the billions. This gesture reminds me how far the experience of flying has fallen for the average person since commercial flights were once offered as a glamorous way to travel for average travellers.
When I learnt that another Boeing 737 MAX 8 crashed I was concerned as I knew that my aircraft was also a Boeing 737. Next day, however, I discovered, that although the Boeing 737-800 and Boeing 737 Max 8 were in the same family of airplane, they had different operating set-ups and effectively were different planes. Bowing, another lucrative corporation, cut corners on flight training and didn’t act on the design problems associated with the aircraft – actions calculated to save money but that cost many lives and the airline’s reputation. The thought of flying a Boeing aircraft knowing this company didn’t act in the best interests of its passengers made flying, for me, a bit more of an act of faith.
The last news piece that caught my attention during this time of indecision was the misfortune of Paul Manafort, who after years of investigations and two trials, was sentenced to 7.5 years for corruption. He is my age, soon to be 70, and about to lose his last years of freedom. He has a wife and family that will be deeply impacted by his decisions. Manafort’s plight could also be my fate if my psychedelic experience results in a life-disabling cardiac event or a stroke. If I ended up on life-support I would end up in my own prison. Being unconscious or losing my independence would deprive me of the life as I treasure it today.
With this clarity I had the best sleep in a week of poor sleep.
When I awake my wife, tells me that she wants to talk with me. I am still half asleep but the seriousness of her manner quickly awakens me. She is concerned that the Ayahuasca ceremony will adversely affect my health. I sit up as she briefly pauses while my mind races. If I require treatment, she continues, then an American Hospital will likely disallow my travel insurance as a simple blood test would show that I was under the influence of Ayahuasca.
Her concern was important to me. I knew that the facility was prepared and that it was located in a modern, Western city that offered speedy and competent emergency treatment. Nonetheless, I reached out to my contact. I knew that my partner is impacted by the consequences of my decisions and felt strongly that her concerns needed to be addressed. For me, this is implicit when in a loving relationship.
The facility contact is someone that I respect. He opened to me about his personal life and didn’t dismiss my fears or my partner’s concerns. I was pleased to know that the staff where all trained in CPR and that an EMT facility was within 4 miles. I felt relieved when he informed me that Ayahuasca use doesn’t leave any trace in the blood stream as the chemicals already exist in each of our bodies. The reassurance was welcomed as was his plans to measure my BP before and during the ceremony. This safeguard, along with the preparedness of the staff, provided invaluable comfort for me and my partner. It also made me even more committed to this experience.
I briefly chatted with my eldest son, who is a pilot, later in the day. He does not flying the MAX 8, nor is it especially concerned with the aircraft now that all airlines are no longer flying the 737 Max 8. He has every confidence that the issue would be addressed and personnel trained before the aircraft resumes service. I told him about the specifics of my upcoming psychedelic experience. As it turns out we will both be in the same American city during my scheduled Ayahuasca retreat. What synchronicity. He will be busy but maybe we will be able to connect for a meal or two. The thought gave me comfort. Maybe it was a sign that this is the right thing to do.
Time for me to let go of my fears
Two days of half-dosage, two days of no Blood Pressure medication and no side effects. My BP readings never exceeded the systolic rate of 160 or the diastolic rate of 100. I didn’t push it into the third day of abstinence as my measurements were already occasionally at Stage 2 hypertension. I felt that I could continue I didn’t want to get lulled into a false comfort. I felt pushing it for another day or so was unnecessary and, perhaps, counter-productive.
Now I have the confidence that I need. My flying jitters are not statistically justifiable. It also helps knowing first hand the training regiment and professionalism of the dedicated pilots. My fears of having a cardiac event has been pushed aside. I now believe that my body will tolerate no blood pressure medication for a few days. My wife’s reservations have been addressed. She understands that this situation is the best possible scenario for me. Everything has lined up in a way that now I know that I will be alright.
I can now reframe my outlook and open myself up to the experience. I am now prepared to let go of my fears and anxieties and to embrace the uncertainty of whatever awaits me. I no longer have any expectations except to participate fully. The rest is out of my hands as long as I let go of control and stop over-thinking. Piece of cake.
For some people it means snow shovelling and hazardous driving. Others see it as a time for skating, skiing and snowmobiling. It is something that I enjoyed as a kid and now, as an adult, I am rediscovering the joy it offers.
I still remember the delight of catching the first flakes of the season on my outstretched tongue. I still remember school-closed days and the imaginative thrills of building tunnels and forts. I still remember the jubilation of sledding with my children. Now I value the sanctity and inner-peace as well as the change in the balance between people, animals and nature.
For now, at least in my quiet country lifestyle, the deep-freeze of winter holds all of us in its vice grip.
In my backyard, even the water surface transforms into a frozen extension of the adjacent land and separation between the two becomes almost indistinguishable. The separation that does exist, however, is between man and animals for in this white on white landscape there are, temporarily, few people and an abundance of animals.
It strikes me as an awakening of animal life but perhaps my sightings are just more obvious to me against a white canvas. Nonetheless, this is nature and the somewhat featureless landscape serves the predator’s keen sense of sight and smell. This advantage coupled with the scarcity of food in winter means that many animals will be eaten because they are more vulnerable in winter. Yet even their death will allow other animals to survive another day. For the cycle of life and death isn’t interrupted by wonders of nature or when animals sit precariously on the knife-edge between the need to survive and the need to kill in order to survive.
It is a reminder of the preciousness of life, primarily because it makes obvious that inescapable death awaits us all.
I don’t want to be morbid but I do want to be realistic. For me, death is natural and I am attempted to reframe my dualistic religious conditioning, in part from my psychedelic journey, and to accept death openly as part of a cycle that connects all of us to the universe, including all life forms, and to the spirituality that I once experienced as a kid feeling snow melt on my extended tongue and tasting joy and wonder for the first time.
Wild animals are unlikely to consider their demise in such a favourable fashion, however, as, for them, death is ever-present and this burden requires every day, every task, especially in Winter, to be about their survival. Winter is a test of energy management and, when food sources and stored fat recedes starvation looms. When this becomes a matter of life or death it will lead to desperation and the likelihood of animals leaving the comfort of their homes and risk encountering man in order to survive.
This may seem harsh but animals don’t have the same choices that we enjoy.
During daylight I have seen deers, coyotes and foxes put themselves in harm’s way in their search to secure the necessities of shelter and food. Fortunate for them I am not a hunter, despite having hunted. I know that their chance of survival is just a matter of luck as it is unlikely they will survive as the weak seldom do.
They have no central heat, layered clothing or corner store. Nor do they have access to regular medical care, let alone emergency treatment. For many animals there is no safe place except parks or nature reserves as hunters will not always respect hunting seasons or bag limits. Something we all know but ignore due the enforcement costs. We also may choose to ignore the plight of wild animals forced to survive such circumstances with the meagre subsistence imposed by winter, a starvation prone diet that our throw-away, order food-at-home culture feels immune from.
Such indifference stems from the cruelty we have long-since accepted with our animal-based consumer choices, choices that we no longer consider whenever we have a hamburger or purchase a pair of leather shoes. We look at the price and don’t look and the benefits or the costs to other people or other life forms. Man may be the apex animal but I judge others by how they treat those who have no voice to protest or defend themselves.
Instead of being an apex animal I see man often operating more like a bottom-feeder.
I find it incredibly sad to witness a doe with one or two offspring cautiously navigating open spaces only to dash head long into the tick of the forest not knowing if their desperation will lead them to more people, more enemies or even that there are fewer and fewer natural places where she will find safety for her and her children.
Yet, despite the challenges and with proper wildlife management some survive. I don’t like wildlife management but I do like hunter management. I prefer that there is no hunters and wildlife are free to have a full and healthy life without the threat of head-on collision with man. I also believe that their survival has less to do with management than the wondrous ways in which they survive our cruelty.
Some animals adapt like the seasonally-adjustable snowshoe hare which turns white in winter so they can be less visible in a snowy environment. Others, like the Canada Goose or the Great Blue Heron, travel south for the winter. But the most wondrous feat, in my estimation, is reserved for animals, like the groundhog, the arctic squirrel and fresh water fish that hibernate.
For during hibernation, an animal can lower its temperature. In fact, one mammal has had their core temperature recorded at an incredibly low minus 2.9 degree Celsius. But of possible interest to pharmaceutical industry is that their heart rate can be significantly reduced. The fact that breathing can be reduced, in some cases reduced from fifty percent up to one hundred percent is of interest to scientists dreaming of man visiting distant galaxies on voyages that could take months or years.
A personal pleasure for me are the flocks of arctic bunting birds that Winter brings us.
They summer in the Arctic but travel south for the winter. There are an extremely cautious bird but, fortunately, for us are on full display from our living room. I call them ‘popcorns’ from their constant popping up into the air, sometimes for only a foot or two at a time. My wife has observed a seemingly playful behaviour where the birds use their wings to ‘splash’ snow around like a child might do in a bath. Hence, she has termed such behavior ‘snow baths’.
During a fierce wind the buntings effortlessly borrow beneath the fury of the howling winds that mold and shape the wintry landscape here like they might a desert there, sculpting each flake or grain into a conforming coherence. Soon they are all but invisible and the landscape again becomes an inhospitable surface.
In contrast to wild animals, man’s operating principle is often ‘something out of sight is something out of mind’. When the ocean’s bays and inlets become encased and their ceaseless waves and currents are no longer apparent than such beauty is transformed in the same manner that natural beauty is always transformed, by man. In this case by using fishing shacks to pursue their ‘sport’.
For me, this makes the distinction between animals and man shift ever more in favour of animals.
There are those that will drive on this secure surface and some who abandon their vehicles in order to use the glory of springtime to release them to the bottom of a deep ocean. There are others who use a fishing shack to dump unwanted garbage down the hole they use to fish.
Such mindlessness makes these acts and many other such acts, both here and everywhere else, an offence against nature and all life forms, including fellow man. It is an action that can no longer disguised by ignorance or acceptable because others also do the same. It is far too late for us to act against our better knowledge as the connection between polluting our environment and the quality of our water, air and food and our very survival is beyond question.
It is also beyond question that animals and all life forms are under assault and that their existence as a species may be now threatened with extinction from our ever expanding population and increasing footprint. Experts now agree that between 1,000 and 10,000 species a year become extinct because of man. Knowing what we now know how can we accept this loss in our planet’s biodiversity without acknowledging our own species is the scourge of the Earth.
Wildlife can adapt to the harshness of winter but it cannot adapt to the extremes of climate change man has created from his/her short-sightedness and greed. In this part of the world we have seen the collapse of the cod fishery where once fish were so plentiful that they were caught in open baskets lowered into the water. Now, after a couple hundred years of cod stock pillaging by in-shore and off-shore industries the cod industry is taking its first baby steps towards a tightly regulated recovery after years of no-fishing.
We have also flattened forests to create farmland in this area. Canada’s smallest province is largely cleared farmland. In the head-long rush to grow potatoes and manufacture and potato chips there is very little ‘original forest stands’ or even forested areas in existence any longer. The natural habitat is, in effect, destroyed.
Now, in addition to the lack of a home for wild animals and plants, soil erosion is a concern on this wind-swept Atlantic Island. The cause is unsuprisingly the lack of trees. Although it is more politically correct to say that it is caused by increased erosion from heavy rains, frequent tillage and a declining number of livestock operations.
More startling is the fact that we have failed to protect our wetlands and the rich bio-diversity that they embrace. The demands of industries and home owners coupled with the attraction of tax revenue has often resulted in government regulators being uneven when it comes to protecting the wetlands. Such habitats destruction is short-sighted but not unexpected in a world that chooses to ignore climate change.
I understand that our world can no longer sustain our population so change is inevitable. I don’t accept, however, the abuse and destruction of our diverse safety net of animal and plant life. We are like the complacent frog that dies slowly in water that is gradually heated until it boils. At what point to we awaken to our own danger of survival?
The frog doesn’t get his understand his dilemma until it is too late. What does the fact that scientists are seeking a hibernation breakthrough in order to provide us with the possibility of an escape, a new start on some distant galaxy suggest? Is it that are also too complacent to act in our own self-interest, let alone on behalf of the animals and plants that have no voice. That’s my vote.