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Ayahuasca — A Dance In The Night
Some think Ayahuasca is “The Witches Brew” — not me though…
Many of the things I write about are shared with the intention that the reader is guided into introspection on some level. Some of the experiences I share, although they may be intimately personal to me, are are shared with the intention they will touch something within you too.
The last three articles I shared were done in a trilogy format and had to do with the concept that the types of relationships we cultivate and share with others are but a mere reflection of the relationship we have with ourselves. I don’t know how much of this you agree with, but I think there is a lot more to relationships that the driving force to connect with another person. Could there be something within the fibers of humanity that causes us all consciously or unconsciously to seek a “divine” connection with a force greater than one we can tangibly understand in this place? Maybe.
If there is, then wouldn’t it make sense that each of us, in our own way, seeks (in many ways) to somehow connect with these unseen forces that govern our existence in every way? What I’m about to share might touch a nerve for various reasons. Before reading any further, please understand that I am in no way am I promoting the use of Ayahuasca. Ayahuasca is a powerful plant that has a history of ceremonial use. If not properly done, Ayahuasca can be dangerous. It’s a dance I attended Three times, each time with widely differing landscapes in many, many ways…
Ayahuasca — the spirit chaser
As a kid, partying meant going out and getting high. It was something I did often. However, as I discovered, there can be a steep price to pay for exploring powerful substances that alter your brain chemistry, especially that of your pineal gland. Medical doctor Rick Strassman, one of the first doctors to research the effects of hallucinogenic compounds on the brain, (with focus on a substance called DMT) believes the pineal gland naturally releases DMT, a compound found in Ayahuasca, during the REM stages of sleep, which, in turn has an impact on our dreaming state.
Ayahuasca has been used by indigenous tribes for many centuries (which is depicted at some of the Mayan ruins sites by detailed impressions of entheogenic plants on some of their monuments). Typically, Ayahuasca is prepared and used with the intention of a greater connection with the “spirit world.” There are reports of participants in Ayahuasca ceremonies having life altering realizations, healing diseases, getting past addictions of various sorts, overcoming depression and much more.
Being as Ayahuasca falls under grey areas in the U.S law (it’s not legal unless it is being done as part of a Native American religious ceremony) – very few people living here actually have the opportunity to experience it. Ayahuasca “retreats” in Central and South America have been a quietly growing trend over the past couple decades as they provide spiritual seekers of all ages, nationalities and creeds a safe place in the jungle, to explore Ayahuasca.
I had (since being in my teens) been curious about Native American ceremonies, more particularly, taking Peyote. Being as it is, and living in the states, I had all but given up on the idea that I would actually ever get to experience a peyote (let along Ayahuasca) ceremony. But then again, life can be strange at times…
As fate would have it, Ayahuasca found me…
South east Florida is filled with all sorts of things to do. Unfortunately, for a younger person who is not interested in the club and bar scene, the choices for Friday and Saturday night can be limited when you don’t feel like sitting at home. Any positive minded person understands that limited choices doesn’t equate to no choices, and when it comes to good, clean, non bar fun — there are still choices.
One of the options that I found was a somewhat organized group of like minded people who felt the same way I felt about the about the bar scene. On Friday evenings there was always an alternative — a place to meet new people, share, dance, break down barriers and much more. Really, quite a welcome reprieve, especially for an organized ongoing event where the focus seemed to be more on a spiritual context.
Typically after the Friday festivities were done, a group of us would visit a sushi restaurant for late dinner and discussion. Often, I joined the multi-age group for some dinner and discussion. It was usually a nice way to end an evening. Typically, around 20-40 people attended this weekly saree, and some of them were rather interesting. Jack (not real name, privacy!) is a perfect example. He was what many people would consider an “old hippie” — he was real tall, had long grey hair, converted his truck to run on bio-diesel, was friendly and very into Native American culture.
After some discussion with Jack I learned that he hosted specific Native American cleansing ceremonies, at his home, which was on a large plot of land. I also learned that Jack was an advocate of herbs. Understanding herbs as a buzzword cautiously used to test the waters and gauge exactly how safe it was to continue a candidly open discussion with me — I decided to share some of my own experiences with “herbs” with Jack. More specifically, experiences with entheogenic herbs that I had learned about on a website called erowid. Taking my cue, Jack then became much more specific as the “herbs” he was referring to, which included peyote and Ayahuasca — “In fact, there are often ceremonies right here in South Florida.”
Well that was sweet music to my ears… My next decision was that is was time for some networking. To make a long story short, about four months later I had my first official invite to a “Medicine Ceremony” — the location was close to the everglades and the ceremony was an all night affair. I decided to invite my friend Gil (name changed for privacy), whom was immediately open to the idea.
Once I had secured my spot – and I knew the event was going to be real, it was time for some serious thinking. What did I want to gain from the experience? I wasn’t a kid anymore and I certainly didn’t underestimate the power of Ayahuasca. I knew my best bet for having a positive and uplifting experience was to think, in advance of the Ayahuasca ceremony as an evening of meditation and introspection. Based on past experience, I knew that psychedelic substances caused introspection whether or not I liked it, so it made sense to me to go into the experience with acceptance of the unknown, a mental plan of what areas in my life I sought clarity on and, to the best of my ability, a clear mind.
The night of the event came quickly. It was a chilly October night on a year that would set all sorts of records for cold temperatures in Florida. Despite all the fancy navigation devices we had, on the drive down to the everglades Gil and I got lost. Very lost. We were supposed to arrive “on grounds” at 8pm, which was a nice thought, but the terrain we were driving through started to make me question if we were going to make it at all. As we were nervously speeding down some of the back roads in the middle of nowhere, I spotted what I thought was a big dog running. Gil saw it too. This “dog” was beige in color, about the size of a Great Dane but thicker and with a really long tail. Then we both realized…that was the first time I had seen a Florida Panther, such a rare sight, in the wild. Wow.
Eventually, after what I was certain to be a series of annoying phone calls, placed by none other than me, the ship was righted and we arrived. The setting was outside of a Palm Tree nursery. Almost surreal. There were a few structures on the property, a large wood barn that seemed to be on stilts with a full kitchen underneath the structure — along with what was to be the ceremonial gathering place, just out front of the barn. There were already about 30 people gathered. Some of them had folding chairs, some had sleeping bags and some just came as they were. For me, this was a bit strange.
It was the first time I was going to have a psychedelic experience in a group format — and the brevity of the entire situation hit me. I knew from personal experience that psychedelics are totally unpredictable, and at times, potentially dangerous. Now, there I was, with pretty much an entire group of strangers, in walking distance to a place where alligators can be found roaming in abundance, about to experience Ayahuasca for the first time. I decided to trust that “things” would work out well and just let go.
Gil and I staked out our place in the circle for the night. The air was progressively getting colder and as time ticked by I started to wonder if anything was even going to happen. The other participants varied in age and life path. There were a few people younger than us, and quite a few people in their 40′s 50′s and 60′s who had gathered. For the most part, just about everyone was keeping to themselves, or limiting sharing to the group they were there with.
Finally, we met with the organizer, paid her for the supplies, presented her with the flowers we were told to bring for the alter and gained a better understanding of what was to happen. The ceremony leader, or Shaman, was woman. That, by itself, in the traditional male oriented world of traditional shamanic ceremonies, was taboo. Not only was the Ceremony Leader a woman, this was her first time doing a ceremony in which men were allowed to attend. I was slightly relieved that it was a first for both of us, for me, taking Ayahuasca, for her, sharing Ayahuasca with men (and women) in ceremonial format. She seemed to be in her upper 30′s, was very attractive and overall calm in demeanor. I felt honored.
Close to midnight the ceremony was officially started. Men were allowed to be on one side of the circle, Women on the other. Talking was ok, but it was to be kept minimal so as not to interfere with others. Singing, which is typically part of Ayahuasca ceremonies, was encouraged, but not mandatory (thank God) – and if anyone was having a difficult time or needed help, they only needed to ask. Additionally, if you needed to “get well” which was another way to put vomiting, the bathroom was off limits. Just find a space outside of the circle and get well as much as you need. I told myself I was going to be fine, and there would be no need for vomiting…Once those ground rules were established we were all ask to introduce ourselves to the group – and if we chose, say some words about why we were there and what we wished to accomplish with Ayahuasca.
Simple enough. I wanted to gain clarity in some of the areas in my life that were foggy. It seemed, quite a few others were there for similar reasons. Once the introductions were out of the way, it was time for the ceremony to begin — and time to take medicine. Starting with an offering of tobacco rolled in corn leaves that was to be passed around the circle. The concoction looked like a giant cigarette – and when it was passed to you, the idea was that you take a few tokes, offer your prayers (why you are there) to the spirits, and pass it on. By the time it got to me it was kind of nasty, but oh well. I did my think and passed it on. I think Gil felt the same was as I did.
Next, it was time for the first round of “medicine” — the peyote — which was to be administered in 3 parts: Tea, Buttons (peyote is a cactus, the buttons are small cacti) and dried, powdered cactus, which could be washed down with the tea. We were allowed to have as much as we wanted, as there was plenty to go around. When the basket, tea and powder made its way to me, I was a bit pensive — about taking the buttons at least. The tea and powder I consumed without reservation. Somehow I believed that stuff was weak and it was the buttons to be careful of. To say that all of it tasted bitter an nasty would be a gross understatement — but I was no stranger to the idea and I did my duty. So did Gil.
After the medicine was finished, there was a bit of anticipation. The Medicine Woman seemed to be slightly taunting us be stating “You guys are being quite economical.” I didn’t know what I was getting myself into fully, so economical was fine by me. There was a big bonfire in the middle of the circle and Gil and I talked amongst ourselves as we warmed up by the fire. Personally, I didn’t want to cause too many waves, and despite being in a jovial mood and feeling like joking around, I resisted.
Then it started…The getting well. Jut not for me and not for Gil. One of our closest neighbors ran out of the circle and started puking his guts out. Then a few of the women followed suite. Then a few more men…I can’t tell you why, but for some reason I found this to be quite amusing. I mean, it was about 1:30 am, there were chicken coups on neighboring farms (all around us) where the chickens could be heard “going nuts” — the sprinkler system was watering the trees, as it would any other night — and there were about a half dozen people miserably puking all around us. I didn’t feel like “getting well” and I could barely contain my laughter. Nor could Gil. When the “getting well” ring leader finally returned, he curled up in a fetal position under the warm confines of his sleeping bag. Gil blouted out “He’s Done!” loud enough for the group to notice, without realizing it. That was too much for me, and I was laughing out loud, like a typical jackass would.
Knowing that I was feeling something — and it felt good, I ask Gil if he was also feeling something. He plainly stated that he wasn’t. We were giggling like a couple of schoolboys would. Knowing he was full if it, I then suggested that if he wasn’t feeling anything, he should go and have some more medicine. All he had to to was go to the Medicine Woman and ask. Much to my disbelief, he decided to take more, telling me “Fine, I will.”
At that point, in my own mind, I had already been flagged as a trouble maker for laughing and making a scene – and the medicine woman was someone who, to me, in my distorted vision, was intimidating. I was certain she was going to scold me for being “bad” so I had to put on the Wally Cleaver front I had become so good at putting on at various times in my life, for her.
After Gil had taken some more medicine he looked a bit different. The additional medicine seemed to perhaps upset his stomach a tad. Unfortunately for Gil, no more than 5 minutes had passed before an announcement was made. It was time for some more Medicine.
The first medicine that had made its rounds was called “Grampa” – which was another word for peyote. The next batch of medicine was “Grandma” – another word for Ayahuasca. Personally, I did not know if I really needed anything else. The effects of grandpa were obvious. However, I had yet to work on the stuff I wanted to work on, going into the ceremony.
The way in which the Ayahuasca was administered was a bit different. You actually had to get up, walk over to the Medicine Woman, and drink a little shot glass sized cup of the concoction. This was optional medicine. Both Gil and I noticed that quite a few of the Women present were “opting out” of the Ayahuasca. As we went round the circle, I was quite relieved to know that Gil was going to be up before me. That was I would at least be able to get some feedback about “how it was” from Gil before making a solid commitment whether or not to have some myself.
As Gil took his dose of medicine and was walking back I ask -”How was it?” To which I was greeted by Gil, shaking his head, exiting the circle in a way against how we were instructed and “getting well” about 4 steps away. Then it was my turn. Both the coordinator and the Medicine Women were looking at me. I could see them in the darkness illuminated by the flames of the bonfire. The were pointing and calling me up. I was looking side to side, as if they certainly, must have been pointing to someone near me who was not me, calling them up. It was confusing to me. I then gestured to them just to make certain they were pointing to me and asking me to take some more medicine. Indeed they were.
Timidly I walked towards the Medicine Women. I was certain she had not approved of my earlier bouts of laughter and it was time to act as innocent as I could. Timidly, I sat in front of them. She had a huge smile on her face and ask me how I was doing. Unable to hide the amusement I had been experiencing this far, I felt a quick response would be my best bet, so I simply stated “Good.” To which she replied, “So, are you ready for some more medicine?”
Was I ready? No, I wasn’t. Not of it was going to make me sick. But then again, I was there for the experience, and I had not really “tapped in” just yet, so I was willing to try the Ayahuasca — my reply…a meek “Well…maybe just a liiiitle bit.” As the words escaped my lips I accentuated the point with fingers, making the motion with my thumb and pointer finger for little. With a huge smile on her face, she handed me the shot glass sized cup and told me “Too late, the cup was already poured.” Trusting her, the Medicine Woman, I downed the shot and sat there for a minute.
I felt the Ayahuasca entering into my stomach. It was kind of unsettling. Priding myself as an avid practitioner of meditation, I thought I could do some “energy work” and “expand” to help the feeling in my stomach ease a bit. I was just taking it in silently — and certainly, the look on my face was priceless. She ask if I was ok, to which I responded “Yes, thank you” – and made my way back to my place in the circle.
That’s when there experience really kicked in for me. It was about 2 am. Feeling as though a brick was in my stomach, being nipped by the cold weather and overall uncomfortable, I decided to do some Qi Gong near the fire. That didn’t help one bit…Nor did the consistent sounds of others who were getting well. Nor did wise ass Gil knowingly gloating, asking “How’s that workin for ya?” — referring to the knowingness of how I was feeling.
Eventually, I decided that pride was a state of being that could (and often does) do harm if I kept it up. In truth, I was ready to “get well” and the only thing preventing me was the pride I chose to hold onto. In my mind, the laughing as others were getting well earlier was not personal, it was more in reference to the comical value to the entire experience. It was not quite cold, those that had not come prepared were miserable and shivering by the fire — and overall there seemed to be a lot of participants suffering heavily.
There were also some participants singing (the women) to whom the Medicine Woman was encouraging by helping them sing. To me, that was so beautiful. It was as if the women singing were doing what they could to share their voice, something that I seemed to think had been somehow repressed, and this brave Medicine Woman who cared little about being socially accepted was helping them express their voice. The sprinklers were ticking away, the roosters crowing and I had decided to go off, find a comfortable spot – and get well.
It took a lot to walk out of that circle and find my own little space to get well, and I did it. By that time, the peyote and Ayahuasca were working in full force. The world seemed pixelated. The air appeared as though it were nothing more than a set of waves typically seen in the road when there is the mirage of water. My legs felt rubbery. The stars were twinkling in a way I had not seen before — and I purged. Once I was started, it was quite easy. It felt so good to get well. It felt as if I were letting go of pent up feelings that were holding me back, preventing me from really enjoying life as I thought life could be enjoyed.
Then I made my way back to the circle. There was no denying the sensations I was feeling — and It was quite nice. I was laying flat on my back, covered in a sleeping bag just thinking. It must have been around 3 or 3:30 am and everything was so perfect. The sky, the stars, the roosters, the sprinklers, the feel of the night…everything. Solutions were entering my mind at an alarming rate. All my senses were heightened and I felt completely at peace.
The Medicine Woman spoke to us all, as a group, and although I don’t remember exactly what she said, I do remember being completely at awe how wise she was. It was amazing. Then it was time for more medicine. More Ayahuasca. The last round of what was such an atypical night. So much different than belligerent last call. We were given instructions to do the best we could to hold this in guys, to which I did. Lucky for me, I was given less than half the size I had had before. It was around 5 am and I knew I had a long drive to make in the morning.
As the night dissolved and thoughts, solutions, understandings, remedies flooded my mind — I started to wonder exactly what it would take to incorporate these thoughts, ideas and solutions into the “real world.” For whatever reason, I decided to pull the covers over my head and look at my phone. The phone seemed to fade in and out, but still, I managed to open facebook, of all things. On facebook, I saw an “updated profile picture” of a girl whom I went to high school with. Her picture…it was as if she wore all of her insecurities to display them to the world, except she was unaware. She just wanted to be accepted and to be ok I rationed. We all do right? That started another train of thought to flow through my mind. At that point, the phone was too complicated so I put it down and just enjoyed the rest of the evening.
Eventually, dawn cast shreds of light upon a new day. That was somehow a feeling I really never enjoyed too much — the sun coming up and not having been to sleep yet — knowing it would be at least four or five hours until I would be home.
At that point I was ready to leave. I wanted to leave. The Ayahuasca was wearing off and it was back to reality. The sun was fully up, warming the earth and all the people whom I had only seen in darkness were now visible. In many ways, some of them looked so rough. Ridden hard and put away wet. Others seemed unscathed by the night. That made me realize the impact, energetically, of that which we hold onto — a concept I hope you all think about.
After what seemed like a long time, it was time to end the ceremony with food. Breakfast time. Even though I was really not in the mood to eat, I did — and it was great. Some of the best food imaginable. As the morning wore on and people started parting ways I had a lot to think about. I had realized so much…yet, how on earth was I going to integrate this new knowledge into the threads of who I was, as a person? Somehow, I knew there was more…I wasn’t done just yet
About the author:
writer, experiencer and free thinker. www.paulbunting.net