It’s now July. Summer has finally, and reluctantly arrived. Lilacs are in full fragrant bloom. Tables at farmers’ markets groan under the weight of fresh seasonal produce, still smelling of the rich, dark earth.
Summer – a time of renewal and growth when everything bursts with new life. Every year this miracle or rebirth that resides within our beautiful earth is also a miracle of possibility that lies deep within ourselves.
These were my thoughts, looking back to a time, exactly a year ago, as I recalled my quest for new potential for spiritual growth, searching for deeper insights into my inner being, for a spiritual connection, seeking guidance to become a better person.
The search led me to Ayahuasca, a hallucinogenic ritual practiced for over 5000 years in religious and healing ceremonies by traditional healers and shamans of the indigenous tribes of the Amazon. Ayahuasca is named after the vine of the same name and is considered sacred, the “vine of the soul,” or “spirit vine,” an integral part of the brew used in the ceremony. Because it is said to expand consciousness and heal internal wounds, ayahuasca is often called the “teacher” plant.
During my travels, a trusted friend introduced me to the idea of undertaking an Ayahuasca journey. I was intrigued. And a little nervous. Hallucinogenic substances or drugs of any kind are not something with which I am comfortable. What might entry into an another dimension, an altered state of consciousness, reveal? I had heard that it can take the form of a lucid dream, of visions acting as portals to a deeper understanding of oneself, a kind of tough love guidance forcing you to gaze into the dark corners of your subconscious without filters. I understood that the journey can be dramatically different for each person, from nothing at all, to brutal.
I was seeking a creative challenge. Because the journey can be so visceral and life changing, words are not enough to describe the undertaking. As such, it can be a powerful outlet for artistic expression – for writing, painting, music and even dance. A variety of actors and musicians have talked about the transformative impact of Ayahuasca. Among them, Sting, Tori Amos, Jim Carrey and controversial director Oliver Stone.
Paul Simon’s song Spirit Voices was penned in 1990 after an Ayahuasca journey.
“Some stories are magical, meant to be sung Songs from the mouth of the river
When the world was young
And all of these spirit voices rule the night.”
These words struck a chord. I was excited as I braced myself to surrender, to experience a different reality. What revelations lay ahead?
After 12 hours of fasting, I entered the house where the ceremony would take place, alone with my shaman. It was a simple room draped in white. The fresh, fragrant hint of mint and lemon wafted through the air – the smoke from the burning “holy wood” of the Palo Santo tree, native to the coast of South America. Similar to sage and cedar and burned by shamans in sacred rituals practised for centuries, Palo Santo is considered a mystical tree with healing and spiritual purifying properties.
I immediately felt at peace. This private session was a special gift, not typical for Ayahuasca which usually takes place with a group of 50 or more people at once.
I focused on keeping an open mind, reminding myself that this experience would be about surrender, without expectation. It was the eve of the new moon, significant of new life, and I hoped, a portent. Seated on a bed and leaning against the wall I took my first sip of the bitter brew. Mixed with the “spirit vine” is a shrub that contains DMT, a psychoactive chemical that can trigger visions and activate repressed memories.
I was as prepared as I could be, knowing that serious digestive upheaval or purging is a common effect as bodily toxins and blocked negative energy are released. Thankfully I was spared. The shaman told me this was because I was coming “from a clean place.”
At first I did not feel any effects, then suddenly, after 30 minutes had passed, I felt an incredible sensation. I felt I had departed from this world into another dimension. A higher dimension that felt more real than my life on earth. All my senses intensified. Birds singing were 1000 times more beautiful. I saw so much beauty I started to cry tears of joy. I was overwhelmed with a sense of awe and for a few moments I felt I saw God. I said. “You are God. You are beautiful. I love you.” I know I connected with something extraordinary. I would venture to say it was with the supernatural.
All the while the shaman played some of my own music. Every note felt imbued with joy and happiness. In all the experience lasted 8 hours.
Since that journey I have felt deep-rooted changes. A year later, my senses remain heightened – my sense of smell and taste are sharper. I have a sense of calm. I feel more grounded, with an intensified awareness of other people’s feelings. I am more at one with my music. It’s coming from a deeper place in my soul, a more insightful level I can now tap into. I also feel at one with the audience. We are all universal energy.
For me it was a profoundly enriching experience. But I strongly recommend that for anyone seeking to pursue a path to emotional healing, that you find a well- trained shaman through someone you trust. As Ayahuasca becomes more mainstream, attracting westerners to retreats in Costa Rica, Peru and Brazil, it has also attracted charlatans who can create great harm.
Ayahuasca is not a magic potion nor a recreational “trip” but rather a cleansing experience that must be approached with respect and humility and the letting go of all ego. It is not for the faint of heart. The journey demands much. But it can give much in return.
For me it has meant enhanced awareness, a sense of peace and self acceptance and new found creativity. Magical stories that must be sung!