Spirituality: Part two of my journey with ayahuasca – the mother plant medicine

919278_origHaving found ourselves a trustworthy shaman, inducted in the ritual by amazonian curanderos we duly booked our places on the ‘course’. Like a good pupil, for two weeks before the ceremony, I gradually increased my meditation and reflection time, softened my yoga practice, changed my diet and withdrew from society until I had very little interaction with the outside world. I changed my diet more than was probably necessary and spent the last few days mostly in silence. As far as I was concerned, I puffed out my chest ready for it to be pinned with a badge declaring, “Gold Star!”

Moving into the night before the ceremony, I was tortured with nightmares every time I woke and fell back to sleep. One particularly vivid dream focused on the actual ceremony which I will not relate here, again for fear of deterring anyone seeking Mother Ayahuasca’s healing. For the whole of the day of the ceremony, I felt and no doubt looked like someone about to face the gallows. A morbidly grey shroud hung about my person and I sighed and gulped a lot. Indeed I had to because every time my techniques to distract myself failed and I remembered the ultimate goal of the evening, I had to swallow back a burning bowling ball of fear which attempted to rise from the pit of my stomach, clawing its way up my throat. In fact, it’s highly likely that had it not been for having a ‘partner in crime’ I might well have backed out then.

On entering the room prepared for the ceremony I was immediately taken aback by the fact that it had, as one would expect, been decked out in assumption of the worst case scenario should someone lose all motor control during a purge. Plastic chairs and plastic bowls for vomit were strategically placed and shot glasses sat ready on a table. We were early and as it was dark and we agreed we wanted to get it over with, we made a start. Having never even done an acid trip I had nothing to compare it with and couldn’t even begin to imagine what to expect. The room was smoked out of negative energies and our energy fields smudged with the native american tobacco to ward off malevolent spirits whilst I sat on the floor hugging my knees to my chest, white with fear, teeth digging into my lip, jaw well and truly fixed attempting to remind myself to breathe.

“Remind me why I’m doing this to myself again?” I asked of the shaman to which she replied, “Because you’re sick and tired of feeling sick and tired.” At which I asked myself, “Do I really feel that sick and tired?”

Taking it in turns to drink our brew, (internally beating my chest and making a tarzan call) I placed the glass down announcing, “Well now there’s definitely no going back.” The lights were turned out and we sank into total darkness. Darkness deeper than anything I had ever experienced before. Sounds of the rainforest filtered out from speakers so authentically that as they filled the room while we waited, we could almost have been in Peru. Kat and I huddled up together under her duvet while I tried to fight the fear in my body having been warned that if it’s too bad, sometimes the brew simply won’t work. In the silence, I reminded myself that this was about surrendering to love and as time passed my body slowly began to relax. My hands began to feel hot and my heart felt as though a really powerful magnet was being held over it, so much so that it almost hurt but there were none of there sensations or visions that I had been expecting from my prolific reading. I certainly still felt very much in my body and very well oriented considering.

At some point, having realised that neither of us was close to sickness, we were asked if we wanted more medicine to drink. I declined admitting that I was still too afraid having begun to enjoy the slight sense of relief that had kicked in. Kat agreed whilst I relaxed further and as they returned, the icaros began to be sung. For more than four hours we were carried by the waves of love vibration in sound as the healers past and present, ancestors, soul brothers and soul sisters were called in to assist with healing and I felt privileged to have been blessed with something so beautiful. Rivers of pain left my body in tears as I lay enveloped in the darkness translating occasional words of Spanish, repeating over and over my intention; “please teach me to love myself.” Seated in front of our shaman for healing, I felt every beat of her leaf rattle infused with love as she removed the ‘nasty’ energy which hung round my neck, singing prayers to clear my body. When she finished she was asked, “Who was it who broke your heart?”

“Which time?”

“It’s of no importance really. Spirit does not deal in linear time but your openness left you vulnerable. You need to start to better protect yourself when healing people. It seems you lifted something from someone you were working with.”

Finally, the ceremony came to a close and feeling as though I’d run an emotional marathon, Kat and I retired to our bunks, half relieved, half frustrated but overall very peaceful. The following morning, we shared a breakfast of cucumber, tilapia, potatoes cooked in their skins which we removed, steamed broccoli and lots of tea. We talked about the experience when it emerged that our guide was a Catholic Shaman. I’d never heard of this before but it made sense to think that the conquistadors, on taking over Iquitos would have killed anyone practicing anything other than Catholicism. Her reasoning for this was, “We need all the help we can get to fight demons and let’s face it, the Catholics have been kicking demon butt for centuries.” I found myself more than a little uncomfortable with the idea of there being such malevolent beings in the world of the unseen and the hair stood up on the back of my neck at the mention of the word purgatory.

My respect and faith for the practice and reverence for the spirit of ayahuasca was tested to the max later that evening as on returning home, we walked into the annual street party where a barbecue ensued and my favourite dessert of all time – raspberry pavlova – was being wafted around. We were under strict instructions that until Mother Ayahuasca’s spirit be released via a bite of a salted chilli, 24 hours at least after the ceremony and mine wouldn’t be turning up until the following morning with my Abel & Cole delivery. Biting my lip, Kat and I made our vague excuses (probably not best to admit the full details of why we had to decline) as we shuffled past in our tobacco scented clothes to console ourselves with fresh mint tea instead.

Now it’s believed that once you’ve swallowed a brew, the spirit of the plant will continue to work with you and often, the deepest healing can occur during the period afterwards. I woke on the following morning full of anger and despair, frustrated that I hadn’t left looking like one of the people I’d seen on youtube, all smug and happy, talking about stuff like being at one with a tree. If you asked my younger self what I wanted to be when I grew up, I wouldn’t have said, “At one with a tree,” but now, I wanted nothing more.

I felt exactly the bloody same… or so I thought.