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James PowellIn June of 2005 I found myself lying on a sandbank in the middle of the Madre de Dios River. The requirements for participation in an ayahuasca ceremony, at least as it was offered to me in the twilight of the Peruvian Amazon, were far from complex – drink the sacred brew, lie back down, vomit if and when you feel the urge to do so. Simple, right? So the uncertainty of what to expect soon gave way to eagerness to experience something totally unfamiliar, a sense of anticipation heightened by the subtle promise of access to the realms of consciousness that lay hidden – or even closed – to someone who had spent most of his life to date engaging with the world through his mind. So when – in spite of the glorious stars above and the sounds of the abundant rainforest echoing around – you lie back down and nothing happens you start to wonder whether something went wrong. Did I drink enough of it? Is this as intense as it gets, or should I keep on waiting? Waiting …waiting … wait- and then, a groan – from a woman, somewhere on the far side of the circle. Not an otherworldly, transcendental groan – not the sound of pain or joy as a doorway to another realm is flung wide open – but the earthly groan of someone in deep physical discomfort. Not long afterwards – about forty-five minutes since I had ingested the brew – my own purge began, as if the release vented elsewhere gave me, the spiritual neophyte, the permission I needed to let go. In the wake of the retching came my induction into experiences that I realized I had, until then, only been pursuing and interpreting through the detached lens of the cognitive observer. As I lay there in the middle of the Madre de Dios River, surrounded by a cacophony of sound and mesmerized by the growing felt intensity of the moment, for the first time in my life I experienced myself both as my physical body and as something new – an aspect of the Spirit, a presence, a soul – that also existed above, beyond and outside of the physical body.

 

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