Friday, February 15, 2013

Home, Sugarless Home...

So I'm dieting the tree from Avatar, and eventually I turn into a panther, but we're gonna half to wait bit till I get to that.  We got a little prequel, and then a some basic background on medicine land.  But eventually there will be a panther.  I promise.

The beach in Negril seemed like a great place for ceremony.  If you've been to Negril, a town on the  south west coast on Jamaica, known in theory for it's long expanse of beach, beautiful cliffs, but by those who've been as a place to have good dirty fun, you'd know how ridiculous that idea was.  The under current is straight seedy sexy hustley.  But it seemed like the least bad option; since the last ceremony I'd been to, which had basically sent me high taling it to Peru, I knew I needed to stay well connected to the medicine and in my two weeks on the island, this seemed like the best chance I had to find a place where I could sing and puke unmolested.

I was drinking alone, and the intention for the ceremony was to heal my relation with everything I found difficult about Jamaica.  I was back, my last stop before finally making it to Peru, for first the time in a few years for the wedding of two dear friends,  I'd lived and worked there on and off few a few years and been there twice before as a backpacker.   For the sake of brevity, lets just say I'm not a fan of the island. 

I was also less then fully onboard with the ceremony.  As had happened so many times since returning from Peru last spring, I'd started out the day thinking I'd have a ceremony, but as the day wore on, I thought of all the reasons this wasn't the best day, realized I didn't really know the icaros as well as I should, and then inevitably, thought about all the advantages of waking up at a reasonable hour the next day and then discovered that it was later then it should be.   But I decided to go for it, if for no other reason then to justify to myself having carried my precious contraband to the country -  I had originally been inspired to have a ceremony for my friends there, but in the chaos of weddingenss, and faced with the huge paradigm divide,  I soon abounded the idea, but was left the medicine and a certain sense of obligation it carried. 

I carved myself a little seat in the sand and got started.  I was in an area in front of a park, one of the few places that didn't get light from one of the resorts.  I poured myself the medicine, which despite my having paid a princely sum for it in Iquitos, had been remarkably not strong at the last ceremony I'd held with it.  I stumbled my way thru a few icaros, but kept thinking I saw things in the shadows, and getting distracted by the music or the occasional beach stroller passing by.  None of it seemed dangerous, but I'd be lying if I said I was focused on the ceremony.  So I just bagged it.  I threw up a little bit of water, packed up my stuff, and walked back to my cabin.    I was wide awake, bored, and basically sober, so I decided to walk over to that same loud party that had distracted me during the 'ceremony' bought some pan chicken, a kind of smokey grilled chicken, which I swore most be seasoned half with msg and half with crack - arguably the best thing about Jamaica, and definitely not ayahuasca food, and paid six dollars which turned out  to be way to much to get into what turned out to be a very loud, but totally dead party.  About twenty minutes later, I left, bought more pan chicken and dollars worth of weed from the pan chicken man and went home and smoked a joint.

And then a a curious thing happened.  Jamaican weed, despite it's lofty reputation, tends to be some glassy eyed murky stuff.   But there was an odd clarity to the experience, and had a few of the sort of classic medicine experience that I never have.  I felt my body as an energy matrix that could be broken down into hexagonal cells, and then sort of as waterfall off we might as well call subatomic particles.   It was pretty faint, but it was that stuff that never happens to me.    It lent credence to the idea the previous ceremony had in fact opened me up to that whole previously hidden realm of experiences, and that this one presented them, like something etched in glass, barely visible, and the weed was sand blown over the glass that made the etching visible.  Didn't blow my mind, buy I did kinda feel like a whole new light had turned on, albeit at the lowest possible setting.

The rest of the trip, I found myself not necessarily liking Jamaica better, but finding things and people about it that I really enjoyed and connected too.  To be fair, Jamaica is nothing if not a dichotomous.  The wonderful and awful are both well abundant.   Even my walk over to  the party after the aborted ceremony had an effortless quality to to it so very different then my standard experience in Jamaica, that everything is if not war, at least well stressful. It always seems like you have to argue and negotiate with everything.  I just by my admission, ate my chicken, bought my weed and was good.   So in an odd sense, it seemed like the ceremony fulfilled it's purpose.  

A few nights later I stayed with some friends at these cabins at Hollywell park, which some people say is haunted.  And I had the strangest dream - I was in this cartoon world, distinctly felt like there where these clothespin ghosts rendered in line drawings, that were preparing to molest me.  Eventually I woke up scared and horny.  How very Jamaican.  I've been places that are supposedly haunted and never felt anything.  It seemed consistent with my new energetic/spirt awareness that all sorts of things would be visible now. 

But all that is just an incidental prelude to Peru,

The journey was comfortingly familiar.  Same Delta flight as last year, same five hours half asleep at the 24 hours Starubucks (an odd ritual given my destination) at the Lima airport attempting to do all the communicating I'd meant to do for months using their free wi-fi.  Got phone credit from the same Claro kiosk.  Bought the same cheap ticket to Iquitos on Star Peru and at six thirty in the morning found myself stumbling again into an empty row of their oddly inviting all beige pleather seats and alternating between passing out and waking up really needing to pee, a need frequently thwarted by their same bizarrely enthusiastic enforcement of the fasten seat belt sign for far to much of the hour and change flight. 

Iquitos airport is small and easy to manage.  I called Carlos, who runs the Ayahuasca Foundation where I'd studied last year.  By some kind of divine providence, he was headed out in half and hour in a chartered bus to Enrique's camp, my destination, which is 72 kilometers out of town on the Cataherra, the only real road (Iqutios is, like the T-shirts at the Karma Cafe say "Deep in da' Jungle"; asides from the Cataherra, which connects it the little town of Nauta, a hundred kilometers away, it's only accessible by boat or plane).  It's not that hard to get to Enrique's, but this was like the jungle saying welcome back, we've been waiting for you.  I took a Moto Karo, which is the underpowered motorcycle made into a tricycle to hold three passengers plus luggage that is the standard means of transport here into town - the driver didn't even try to charge me a tourist rate.  He did try to offer a hotel, a jungle guide and everything else under the sun until after my repeating it about the third time, he finally understood that I didn't need anything.  It was very comforting moment.  It was my third trip to Peru, and the first two and had been decidedly more exploratory.  Along with all the miracles and spiritual opening ayahuasca travel tales abound with stories of shysty shamans, and unscrupulous hustlers, and occasionally the horrific (google Chimbre);  although I'd never had any experiences that I'd call worse then mediocre, I'd spent a lot time cruising around and gossiping with my fellow travelers trying to find something better then ok.  A lot of ayahuasca centers specialize in people who are coming down for a week or three, to experience the medicine, to learn a little about themselves, or to heal something.  I started out that way, at a ten day retreat, which seemed fine at the time, I got a lot of great stuff out of it and the people running the place at that the time were great, but having been around the block a few times, I definitely am not headed back there.  Still probably the most intense ceremonies I've experienced to date.  On the second trip I'd been looking for something deeper, more thorough; I was looking for some one to properly apprentice with.   After sifting about for a month or so, I'd walked out of my hotel and run into Theresa, a sweet but infuriatingly persistent local jewelry vendor talking to a guy named Laser who said something like 'hello, do you want to come out to a camp with me and do a couple ceremonies?'  He and I have since talked about what transpired next repeatedly.  Normally, any sane person when asked this question usually asks a bunch of questions about where, how much, the shamans training.   I wouldn't say ayahuasca is dangerous, but like anyone you're gonna share an extremely intimate evening with she has the possibility to take you a lot of different places, so it some consideration is definitely recommended.  What happened instead, was with about much consideration as lobotomized gnat on Thorzine can muster in half a heart beat, I said 'Yeah, sounds great.' I tell him it was because I liked his t-shirt - I think it was a laughing buddha, but the truth is, I have a lot of faith in my gut instincts, and my instincts said that he was a great guy, and that he'd done his homework, and if he thought this Enrique guy was worth my time, he probably was. 

A day later I met Enrique for the first time, and boy were the guts accurate.  The ceremonies didn't have some of the thunder and lighting of other places I'd been, but there was a strength and surety, coupled with a gentleness that seemed solid in a way that nothing else had.  About week later I was enrolled in the six week course he was teaching, which was put together by Carlos, the guy I was currently en route to meet. Enrique's tradition, and what the course taught was straight up Shipibo vegetalista curanderismo.   Shipibo being the largest  and most intact of the Amazonian tribes.  They are also generally considered to have the strongest plant medicine.  I've heard people say that when the curanderos from other tribes are really sick, they ask to be brought to a Shipibo healer.  I don't know whether they are they are the most numerous and seem to have the most intact tradition because there medicine was the strongest, or whether they survived because there were the most of them, but I do know they are generally considered to be the final word.  Vegetalista, or vegetlismo means one who works with, of the tradition of working with plants for healing.  Healing emotional wounds, energetic parasites, but more often, things like diabetes and cancer; although the distinction between these two sets of things is much less in the Shipibo world then it is in ours. All in all though, the tradition is a lot less interested in the kind of spiritual exploration that westerners, myself included, are often looking for when they come to the medicine.  Shipibo culture is so organically spiritual, that to take a plant just for that experience isn't really necessary.  In Spanish 'curar' means to heal, so a 'curandero' is a healer and curanderismo is the healing tradition.  This is the word that is used here as we would use 'shaman', which is actually a Mongolian word meaning 'skywalker' -  apparently they have some pretty serious shamans in Mongolianland; check out the movie 'The Horse Boy'  it's an amazing story.   So… six weeks of Shipibo vegetilsta curandersimo.  And although the course is really just an introduction, I finally feel like I have some kind of map of this world, and I had my people.  So I most emphatically didn't need any suggestions from the moto karo driver as to where to go.   I knew where I was going.  I was going home. 

The ceremonies on the course were magical, but what often stroke me more is the space afterwards where everyone is so open and real.  I could pretty much say my whole life is about trying to get to that space, and in a nutshell, most of my frustration in life is about not being able to find it.  In Peru, especially after ceremonies, I talk all the time.  I tell people here I don't talk much in the states, and they don't believe me.  But I'm so excited to have the standard way of interacting be profound and honest that I can't shut up.  Even if I'm not yapping, I still have this happy dancing puppy dog feeling. 

This time I felt like that before the ceremony even started.  It was good to see old friends. It was good to be surrounded by nature.   It was good to be where everything is real. 

My first ceremony back in Peru was epic.  Or at least it's exit was.   The insults to my guts left by weeks of greasy meaty sugary Jamaican food, rum and hip hop video consciousness levels exploded out of me with thermonuclear force.  Just as it was subsiding, Laser came up to ask if I was ok.  Words were a murky improbability. A good purge is like a bolt of lighting.  There's nothing else going on.  As the circuits reset, I fumbled thru the ether and eventually found English: I was on my way to the bathroom but then I had to throw up, the words crystalizing the reality around me: as often happens, language is a structuring force onto itself; both evidence of and catalytic to my returning to navigability.   Laser seemed to think it had been a lot of throwing up, which was kind of reassuring to know I hadn't totally lost perspective; it had seemed pretty insane to me as well.  I felt immediately better afterwards, as is often the case.  Now that I think about it, it would make more sense if people comforted pre puke not post - that's when you're actually feeling bad.  I guess also I'm lucky in way.  My purges tend to be intense and decisive.  I'm not fucking around, and I when I'm done, the work is done.

And so was my ceremony.  I had purged pretty early on, and gotten rid of pretty much all the medicine along with the Jamaican vibes.  A second cup wasn't offered ( the consensus amongst those who kept it in their belly, was that medicine was super strong.)  And I was left with what we call the twinkley-dinks - only the slightest sense of the medicine typified by faint unremarkable patterns of light.  It's generally talked about with frustration; it's kind of the ceremonial equivalent of purgatory.  BORE-ing.  I, with my high tolerance to DMT/ lack of sensitivity to the spirits, depending on who you ask, am always trying to get a clearer line with god.  But this time it really didn't bother me.  I knew I had months a head of me, but more then that I knew that this ceremony and the next week or so, I was really just gonna be a spectator to the main show which was that Carlos, who after ten years of living in the Amazon had managed to achieve what is basically the holy grail for ayahuasca drinkers, he had gotten his whole fucking family to leave their right brained reality behind in the the states for a week or two, and come down to the jungle to drink the juice.  All three brothers and his one living parent. Carlos is healer, he runs a healing school, and has heal and changed countless peoples lives, mine amongst them.  But as far as I could tell what he most wanted to do was have his family come down and get healed.   I was content to watch the miracle that was unfolding.   And they had quite a night.  Quite a week as well.

Let me introduce the characters:  They are all outstanding human beings; His Dad's in pretty good shape though he eats junk, and so far relatively minor heath problems that go with that; glucose levels thru the roof and whatnot,and and he has limes disease.  The oldest brother Ace is doing pretty well too.  He's a jock, strong, competitive, works as an investment banker spoils his kids.  He was the one who flew right, though he's not the most emotionally expressive guy, he would appear to be all around the most ok.  Next, Grizzly, also works in finance, though lost his job in the last crash.  Had a portfolio and makes his living off that and - it's a weird family - ebaying the four tractor trailer loads of solar equipment his dad bought on auction when solar start up when belly up when the technology changed faster then they did.   Grizzly is also a serious alcoholic and coke head, as well as over weight.  Apparently he manages his life relatively well - he like all of them profess to love his wife and kids have pretty good relationships with them, but his health is terrible.   Carlos said the way he got him to come down was by writing to point out that if he continued on the path he was on he would not live to give his daughters away at their wedding.  And then T-bar who lost his job and savings and his home in the financial crisis (ironically he was a mortgage broker) and has been going down hill ever since.  Not so much drugs, though when he was leaving he did say he was gonna cut back on or maybe quite smoking weed.  He lost his sense of self worth when he lost his income.  Apparently the nail in the coffin was when he couldn't afford to go home I forget if was for his mothers' funeral of before she died (her death is it's own saga - and Ill tell you that story another time).  I guess he kinda went off a cliff after that, and started to have grand mal seizures on a regular basis, including one at the top of a staircase.  He has a lot more stitches then he used to and wife was freaking out.  As is usually the case in these types of stories, western medicine did not have a lot to offer.  He said they just kept upping the dosage on his downers everytime he had another seizure.   Apparently he was at something like 6x the recommended dose.  Said he couldn't even function.

Apparently Enrique looked into T-bar's head during a ceremony said that there was  big nerve that was broken, and that occasionally the wires would spark across one another and T-bar would have a seizure. I have to say in a literal sense that doesn't make so much sense to me, particularly because T-bar said you can kinda feel them building before hand and to my knowledge your brain is more a mass of neurons then discreet large nerves, but shamanic anatomy is often simpler then western anatomy, and also that was the thrice translated version and given that the basic tool of hearing here is a song, as opposed to a scalpel, I can sort of let this settle as loose metaphor.  Broken energetic connection.   Anyways Enrique said he would reconnect the wires and  gave T-bar a bunch or turtle hearts, the same thing he gave my friend Laser to cure his epilepsy. And that definitely worked.  He was well into his treatment when I got there and he seemed to think he was better.  Apparently he was over all much happier as well, had lost a good amount of weight and felt like he had a new zest for life.  Its kind of hard for me to know how you're over a randomly occurring event with no continuos symptoms, but he seemed to believe it.  And given that by all appearances, the whole thing had an absolutely emotional source, it makes that sense that getting his mojo back would go along way on it's own.  

Grizzly, of cocaine and ebay had a really rough first ceremony, but he was fine in the morning and went back in the next night.  I don't know exactly what happened, but at some point he also seemed to have a complete turn around in his life perspective, and decided to give up  the coke and the booze, eat healthier food and I guess rekindle the relationship with his wife which had been dwindling.  Apparently the biggest obstacle was that his best friend was even deeper into the blow then him, had no interest in stoping.  They would  watch the Patriots games and get destroyed.  That sounds like about as much fun as dentistry without Novocain to me, but to each their own; the whole family are big sports fans. They actually all went back to Iquitos on Sunday and spent the night in a hotel so they could watch the Patriots play the AFC (or maybe NFC) game - it was the one that would get them in super bowl.  Apparently the football season being over was going to make it easier to kick the habits.  He also said his wife didn't know - how he pulls that off I have no idea.  Also, I always thought half the point of getting high was to do it with the people you get naked with.   He was glowing when he left, but quitting bad habits is lot of work.  But he seemed to want to and be excited about it, as opposed to feeling like he ought to, and he was getting his sights on the positive - healthier body, better relationship with wife, more money, getting to see his daughters grow up.  So we shall see.  I'm cautiously optimistic.  Ayahuasca has a pretty good record for addiction treatment, though it's not the magic bullet that ibogaine is.  

Ace, the jock, seemed to have changed the least.  He seemed like he was in the best shape.   And like all of them, he seemed like a stellar guy.  He was really supportive over all, and I think resolved to be a little healthier.  He also called up his Dad's girlfriend and said he'd pay her to throw out all the junk food in the house and replace it with healthy food.  Surgeons use scalpels, Shamans use songs, and bankers use money. 

The dad was sort of the least participatory.  He did one ceremony, and said that when he started to see things flying around, he just went to his room and went to sleep.  He did, in sort of not quite done, tinkering dad way instal a series of solar power systems, that supposedly will have us off generator pretty much all the time.   But his dad was neat.  Last year, Carlos said that his dad was working with some people who seemed to have viable cold fusion solution.  Cold fusion, being a nuclear reaction that makes whole stable atoms (meaning, no nuclear waste) while releasing nuclear reaction amounts of heat.  If it's real, it's gonna make the internal combustion engine seem a stone age joke.  I read a little bit about it last summer, and the media didn't seem to optimistic.  But apparently his company is brining it both to NASA (he used to work for them) and the Naval Research Lab, both of whom seem to think they can make it work.  Free, or at least really cheap energy would pretty much be a complete upheaval in the world financial structure.  And for desert, the other thing his company does is transmutation.  They don't do lead into gold, but the they can do iron into platinum.  They can do gold too, but apparently that's illegal.  So his company is straight inventing the future.  But that's really just an aside.  When he left his glucose levels were in much better shape and the limes was apparently pretty managed. 

Anyways, it was great having the whole family here, and they did all seem to transform and heal quite a bit.  And it really demonstrated that families heal as a group.  They were also all great people.  I mean ayahuasca mostly brings out the best in people, but still, they were great.  And I do think they're all in significantly better shape for their time here.  There was an over all decision for everyone to become healthier.  

The other thing that was cool about the family thing, was that it legitimatized a lot of what Carlos was up to in his families mind, and therefore in his own.  His family rocks pretty hard.    Brother's a banker. Dad's patenting the future.  You've spent ten years in the jungle doing something no one understands. Family comes down.   People heal.  Suddenly your world is more real.  It was good shit. He said that what he really wanted was that when someone in the family was sick, they would call him.  And he felt like now they would. 

Nuff about all those other people.  Let get to that panther...

A few hours after I arrived I talked to Enrique, and said I wanted to stay for about a month and diet a particular plant.  He seemed to think this was a good plan which honestly was a relief.  It's a super powerful plant, I felt I'd been a little wayward, and wasn't sure I'd get the go ahead.  We settled on price (jungle medicine, like western medicine is a cash money business), and I was installed.

So here's a little more to background. Plant Diets.  Diets here really have nothing to do with what we call diets in the states, although you do as relatively insignificant side effect loose weight.  Different people have different protocols, but basically you cut down your stimulation, i.e. by living in hut in the jungle, then you drink a tea made from the plant in question, and then you limit what  you eat, and then you hang out and listen to what the plant says to you.  In this case Enrique said I should drink the plant twice a day for three days without eating anything, and then once a day for three days while I got to eat blandness itself - rice, potatoes, farina (chopped up fermented, dried yucca) hard boiled eggs, quinoa, lentils and limes all with nothing, especially not salt oil or sugar. Although apparently now I can also eat chicken and vegetables, which is a godsend.   I'll continue to with said diet until I finish.   Some people do it in total isolation, some people do it where you can't touch anyone, and some people fast the whole time.  What I'm doing is sometimes called a social diet,  and in sense it's on the easy peasy end of the spectrum.  Apparently Enrique asked the plants to makes things easier for us westerners.  He's cool like that.  He's definitely a badass, but he's not into making you're life unnecessarily difficult.  There is also a suspicious convenience in what he negotiates with the plants.  Basically he's like look, these guys come from another culture and they don't have twenty years to spend sitting along in hut, so we got fast track it - we've got the IMF and fast food storming the gate.  I don't know if those were the exact words he used but that's the general idea.  About negotiating with plants - well, even talking to them.  Eventually you get to the place where you can literally have conversation with plant spirits.  And although they have pretty strong feelings, they have personalities, and can be reasoned with.  Granted in the west this is indistinguishable from a diagnosis of clinical insanity, but it is the basis for this whole cultures' understanding of the world.  The traditions teach that the plants taught them pretty much everything they know, most especially how to heal with plants.  Apparently tobacco was the first teacher, taught people to make ayahuasca.  A plant also taught Enrique how to cure AIDS.  Apparently he was just hanging out one day and the plant was like - do you wanna know how to cure AIDS - literally just like that.  I believe they've done it here once.  Supposed to take about six weeks but the guy didn't follow his diet so it wound up taking eight.   You can see why Carlos wants his family to call him when they're sick. I would not say I have personally experienced this type of communication with plants - were still in the gaga -gogo stage, but there's something going on. And it seems like it will develop.  Also, to be complete, I did not directly witness the AIDS cure, but it's talked about in pretty day to day way by pretty sane people, and I've seen enough other supposedly impossible healings that I don't have any trouble accepting it.  Back to Enrique and convenient messages -  he also apparently got a message from god that he was supposed to teach westerners this tradition.  Great idea, and I have to say, a lot more lucrative then teaching it to other Shipibos.  But all in all, I'd say his integrity is at least as good as any of the other curanderos I've met.  And the net result is this most effective propagation of said tradition in the history of time as far as I know.   Seems like it's worth a living wage.  But, we're talking about dieting.  The idea of the diet is you're trying to tune into the plants frequency - remember, you want to talk to them.   Since plants can't enjoy the types of bodily pleasures we do, specifically food and sex, you don't have sex and make the food as bland as possible. There is this additional thing about nutrient depravation, which teaches you to rely more on plant or spirit energy instead of the regular stuff that keeps us going.  The limiting of input also makes it easier to tune into the plants more subtle communication.  You have to be quite so you can hear god's whisper type thing. 

There also also this completely different thing called a healing diet. which is less strict and are for treating a medical issue.  Healing diets are basically just no salt no sugar no oil no sex.  To be honest I don't know a whole lot about the logic of them, but those are the rules. 

There is also this idea of an 'ayahusca diet', which for the most part is just famous western misunderstanding.  I mean there are definitely things you don't want to eat before ceremony, like aged cheesed and I think fava beans, and anything containing thiamin I believe, and anything fermented can be a little rough, and pork is definitely bad, and clean diet will help, and yes anti depressants will kill you.  No joke. And there are people, including Carlos who think that following something like a healing diet will help, but Enrique sure doesn't think so.   When a lot of people talk about an 'ayahuasca diet', they're generally totally confused - usually they're applying the strictures of the plant diet the ayahuasca diet.  Retarded.  I've seen a shaman down grilled duck and oily rice before a ceremony.  It was a great ceremony. 

So blah blah blah.  The rules aren't that interesting.  What is is interesting is the result.  And  that I'm dieting the tree from Avatar.  It's legendary, it's official name is Noyarou, but one of it's many names is the God of Gods.  It's considered to be the most powerful tree in the forest.  People talk about other plant spirits getting jealous of each other and things.   Apparently if Noyarou  just blasts everyone else out of there.  Oh, and it glows in the dark.  Call James Cameron.  Apparently there's not English, Latin or even a Spanish name for it.  It's often considered to be extinct - although after Enrique bough this property he found three of them here, which he took as very good sign.   Being Enrique, he doesn't want any Peruvians to know anything about it.  Gringos are fine, because he wants us to come study.  But he's afraid if anyone from here finds out, some one might come steal the soul of the tree.  There is a lot cloak and dagger stuff here with a gnarly science fiction element.  Basically, if you're not the best curandero, you can work harder, or you can just steal other peoples magic.   Like many things I hear about here, I haven't witnessed anything like this directly, but I've talked with people who's take on reality seemed pretty grounded who and have, and I have to say, the longer I'm here, the more sense these things make.  I've often been confused by the complete lack of community or solidarity amongst curanderos.   Up until quite recently I really wanted to work to do something about that; everybody does when they first come down here.  But I was talking to Enrique the other night and he we like - well, there's really no upside to knowing other curanderos. .  People are jealous, greedy and (magic) power hungry, and the more people who know you, the more likely you are to get attacked (in plant world) or have you're power stolen or some other crazy shit.  This may seem a little crazy, but Apparently Enrique's brother had all his visions stolen by another curandero at some point.   I know plenty of people, who well have the wits about then who have said they've been attacked by brujeria (black magic) in ceremony.   Enrique said his mom (he comes from a long line of curanderos) was killed by brujeria.  I don't quite understand the details, but it sounded like they used a small poisonous snake.  I'm not sure if this snake was visible in the world most people inhabit.  I am sure his mom is dead.  If you live in this world, it's pretty much understood that brujeria is part of the territory.   So you have your own little clan, and you don't really fuck with anyone else.  Curanderos are referred to as  Dons - it implies a certain status.  And I have to say, there role does a have a bit common with the mafia Don.  They have a lot of power, they run their little world, and they keep their shit safe from the very real threat of other all the other Dons.  Ayahuasca is beautiful medicine, and there's a lot of great stuff and great people down here; although it may be the Enchanted Forest, Amazonia sure as hell ain't Disneyland.

 We went to see the tree other night and it was some straight up fairy tale shit.  The forest was pitch black, but all around us on the ground were this shimmering leaves.  It was more like lots of stars then a blanket, but it was enough to make you believe in magic.  And you could totally feel the energy coming off the tree as well.  I picked up a few leaves.  Later then night I put them in front of myself when I was meditating and focused on them and the energy of the trees for the second half of the meditation.  And some weird really cool shit happened.  I felt like my body opened up/evaporated and this column of energy came into me and made me stronger (I guess that's the stuff I'm supposed to be living on know as apposed to nutrients).  And that was pretty crazy, but later when I feel asleep I had this dream that I was at a party and suddenly I was really thirsty and all the water was muddy and then I kind peeled in half from the top and this mass of black smoke came out of me.  And then when I came back together I was like a monster.  Not a mean monster, but monstrously strong, like I big cat,  a Panther.  I had an experience like that during a San Pedro a two years ago, but I was stone sober this time.  At some point I woke up, and I still had that Panther energy, and then also some kind of big bird of prey energy as well.  Both things made me chest feel super big and strong and armor plated.  I was way to wired to go back to sleep and I spent a bunch of time hanging out in the moloko contemplating my current existence as a predator.  Because along with the new body, I had this very see- focus- attack energy.  That energy was actually how my first panther started.  It was a little freaky that time, but this time I had the approach down.  I mean that same energy could easily make you angry or get in fights or punch walls for no reason.  But it's kind of like driving 150 miles and hour - as long as the roads are good, and you're in ferrari, and you stay calm you'll be fine.  Weird metaphor, but basically the thing with hunting instinct is as long as your calm and balanced it good stuff.  When it goes awry you're the local thug.  Eventually went to sleep.  Woke up feeling peaceful as baby.  The next time I was in ceremony it was super feline, squiggly energy.   This place is kind of a roller coaster ride thru different parts of yourself.  One of the things I've realized that if you're freaked out that  you feel like a lethal hunter tonight, don't worry, you'll feel like a wiggly girl who loves purple the next. 

I talked to Enrique about it.  Didn't quite get all that he said, but basically he said that the plants were strengthening and protecting me.  That the black smoke was bad juju leaving me, and that that panther was protecting me and making me stronger and something I didn't quite get about how since panthers can eat anything,  - apparently they have quite the digestive track - that I would be able to eat anything too.  I didn't know if he meant food wise or energy wise. I do know that I got chicken for dinner the next night.   I'm actual gonna get a better translation when Laser shows up.  Anyways, he seemed pretty excited.

That's all for now - I was gonna get into the ceremonies, but I've realized all this writing is taking me away from being focused on being here, so I'll write more when I get out of here in about a week...

Thursday, January 17, 2013

A Call to Arms

I was late to the end of the world.   Dec 21st, 2012, the much ballyhooed end of the Mayan calendar, an occasion which every hippy worth their festival gear had spent considerable energy debating where to spend - The  Rainbow Gathering in Palenque, The Great Convergence at the pyramids, that Symbiosis thing in the Australian outback.  I had been hoping for Peru but wound up lost in Queens on my bike, cold and late to ceremony in some dude's apartment (no one told me Astoria was @#$ing far away!).

We'll call the dude The Preacher, and he had just gotten done with a course in Peru that teaches you the basics of how to run a ceremony.  There's a lot more to it then that, but basically, it's awesome.   I know because I had taken the course six months prior, come home completely inspired with all sorts of plans to hold ceremonies for everyone I loved, look into starting a retreat center in Columbia, ayahuasca retreats for business productivity, and generally save the world… and done none of it.   I'd held one ceremony for myself, one for a couple of friends which had been well, tepid  And attended two others.  It was probably the lowest ayahuasca period since I'd started drinking.   Honestly, I was a little ashamed of myself.   So when The Preacher called, I kinda felt like the jungle had sent him as an emissary to bring me back to reality.  

And that is exactly what had happened.  The sequence of experiences is a little fuzzy, but it was definitely a watershed ceremony for me - and by the end, it really seemed much more realistic to me that I could actual become a shaman.  A little background: a few things that I had been thinking about in the days before that ceremony really came into play… Some people have suggested that I am well suited for the being a shaman, and I often felt that that though it is true in many ways, it's also abundantly clear that I'm really ill suited in some ways.  I don't see plant spirits, experience past lives, talk to faeries, and - this had occurred to me a few days before - I completely lack humility.  I don't think anyone who's known me for more then an hour would contest the last point, nor have I ever even pretended to value humility - I mean, I'm pretty clear with myself that pretty damn important to myself.  But the perspective that has suddenly come to me was not so much my importance or lack there of as I DIDN'T FUCKING MAKE MYSELF or anything really, or make anyone healthy or sick or make anything any particular way, and that if I took the perspective that I was just a little tiny vessel through which the much larger forces (otherwise known as the universe) flowed thru creating the thing I call myself, my own reality became much more fluid, and much more connected.  Furthermore, by realizing my own insignificance, and connection to, uhm, everything, I would be able to (at least in theory, and with a little practice) call upon the universe to do some neato things.   Like heal my (again, hypothetical) patient.  Kind of paradoxical, but basically in order to have access to all the cool shit, I have to realize I ain't shit.

Another thing I haven't historically gotten high marks in is 'Energetic Awareness'  In a certain sense, I feel like I'm pretty good at reading the vibe of a room or person, and being tuned into where people are at.  But I sure as hell don't see auras or notice that your left blurgdyboop channel is half a pixel out of alignment.  I had a few conversations with my friend Bella about this, who had mentioned she had really been led to a world of energetic awareness from working with plants (that's getting high on natural substances for all of you who are still stuck in the 90s) and that perhaps I should try some Reiki classes or just be put some effort into being open to such awareness.  It had always struck me as one of those you're born with it or not things, but I used to think that about singing, and I had learned to sing drinking ayahuasca, so hell, maybe I could learn to see other things as well.

Ok, back to the ceremony.  First and foremost, let me say the Preacher could fucking belt it out.  People always talk about music in ceremonies, and you often hear about this person singing or playing very beautifully, but let me tell you, you look at that a lot differently after you've led a ceremony.  It's not just about pretty music.  You really come to understand how much you are shaping the experience with your voice; the shaman's song is the tool the tunes the vessel that receives the transmission.  Fo-Real.  ( At least this is true in the tradition of the Shipibo the Amazonian tribe who are generally considered to be the most bad ass shamans in the jungle, and in who's tradition both The Preacher and I had studied.  Other traditions are really different.)  Dude sang not just beautifully, not just with a powerful voice, but like he really owned the fucking song.  Having struggled at the same task, I was well blown away. 

And while being blown away a lot of amazing things happened.  I got these little glimpses into being a different creature altogether, to being the kind of person who can talk to plant spirits and sees energy in the way that I don't.  And I saw that it was something that I have always pretty much thought of as impossible, and that like most things, it's about as possible as you believe it to be.  I realized I was attached to a self-identity which, without strictly specifying 'thou shalt not be able to communicate with plants or do other crazy shit', wound up creating a person who couldn't. I could feel that if I opened myself up to the universe (me: humble little vessel) a whole new way of being and perceiving could flow in.  The energy thing was just kinda funny.  I realized that I'd been bending over backwards to not perceive 'Energy'.  I'm pretty aware of my physicality, and in the ceremony I spent a lot of time paying attention to what was happening with my body, and it became laughingly obvious that a lot of what I had labeled as 'physical' sensations, were really more accurately described as 'energetic', and in about ten seconds this led to a snowball affect of very quickly developing a rudimentary language for what I'll have to call an Energetic Awareness.  Pretty much everything could be perceived as energy. I'm always aware of the tensions and knots in my body, which I think of as physical, but suddenly it made a lot more sense to think of them as energetic, and that the energy was informing the physical.  If the energy could be released, the physical would follow.  It seems kind of silly as I write it because I've heard people say things like that plenty of times before.   Often after their second not their ninety second ceremony.  I can actual many of you say 'duh' as I you read this but I guess sometimes I'm slow.  At one point I found myself rubbing a tight spot in my neck and I realized that everything about how I was doing it was tense.  So I relaxed myself a bit, thought about Bella's advice to just work with the energy, and… the world just melted. Not just the tension in my shoulder, but me, the universe and everything until I was just this tranquil thing in a glistening sea of energy.  It didn't last long, but it was a pretty eye opening peak into another way of experiencing reality.  

It was also more visual then my ceremonies usual are.  In ceremony I usually realize things more then see things, which had seemed fine for awhile (obviously visions are great, but I knew of enough people who had had just completely delusional visions that I was happy with my less colorful but seemingly more useful expereinces) but on my last trip to Peru, I'd really felt more and more that I was blocked in certain sensory abilities.  So here I was with more visuals, outlines patterns - magenta purple on black. Hints of ant/praying mantis heads.    Could say they were three dimensional but it really seemed to expand into a space that was too dense and complex to parse.  And I definitely felt, still in hints, but much more clearly then I have in the past,  a sense of intelligence.   Maybe each ant head represented a little brain, or maybe the whole pattern was some communication.  It did seem diligent, or working.  Like scurrying ants, even though the ants themselves  were pretty static, almost like they were dead, carcasses being swept away.  I did once hear that in a different, mestizo tradition, ants are supposed to represent work being done, or needing to be done.   And that did seem consistent with what was happening.  Some of patterns seemed to go right thru me (humble little vessel) and bring little flickers of physical discomfort and fear.  A seriously upset stomach in ceremony seems like the worst thing in the world, until things really start to get bad.  The really bad stuff, fear, pain - it just goes right thru me, and I just get the worse sense of there's no where to run.  Kind of like it weaves itself into a more than three dimensional blanket that suffocates you,  goes right thru you and then goes on forever.   Nausea is just the icing on the cake.  Horrific description, I get precious little of and this time it really just showed up in slivers.  But it did remind me that I tend to have a pretty cavalier attitude to medicine, especially here in the states - Friday night, no good movies playing, might as well go to a ceremony ( I think this is kinda that good ole' lack of humility and kind of what on good day might be an attempt to balance and a bad day be a reaction to the sort of unthinking cookie cutter reverence one often sees in these and other hippy circles) - and forget that sometimes it can kick your ass.  The yucky also felt like a little reminder of the eternal reality that letting go of things is often painful, and that in order to become this more open, aware person, I would probably have to go thru a certain amount of painful letting go.  Second time ever I had this sense I might want to wimp out on the healing/cleansing process.  Here in the clear, non scary non agonizing light of day I'm all down to go back in (on plane to Peru as I write this), but yeah, I definitely had some 'yeah, maybe I'm good' thoughts.  

I also felt a lot more tuned into/compassionate towards other people. There was a song about  burning things (I think the corrupt system) alive with tires - interesting choice for a ceremony, no doubt.  I didn't really bother me but I did really consider what it would be like to be tortured for some time.   Some one started crying during the ceremony and I really got this visceral sense of certain sad/loneliness of my mothers.  I was struck for the millionth time with wanting to figure out how to spend more time with her and take better care of her.  It's a challenging proposition, because I'm well wrapped up in my own life, we live on opposite corners of the country (that's when I'm actually in the US), and she's adamantly independent creature.  But the real thing is, all the perspectives that seem so valuable to me, and  all things I know of that heal, plant medicine, meditation, even Landmark, she has some opposition to.  It is something I need to work out in the near future though.  

Over all I was blown away by not just my experience, but the power of the ceremony and of the tradition it represented.  It screamed to me in no uncertain terms that this is what I needed to be doing with my life; providing the space for other people to have similar experiences.  I'd spent the past few months well focused on making money, and suddenly if just seemed so pointless.  I also had this trip thru asia planned which wasn't gonna get me to the jungle till sometime in march.  By the next day it went from seeming like great fun to a great distraction.  Also, in the past I had really thought I would like to learn plant medicine and the figure out how to integrate it with other disciplines.  People had said to me that maybe I should really learn the tradition- it's pretty powerful on it's own.  A the time I had disagreed, but by the end of this evening, I definitely didn't see the need to dilute it with anything else.  

After the ceremony people shared their experiences.  I was really struck through out this how muscularly positive The Preacher's feedback was.  I mean people are generally positive and sincere after a ceremony  but this was like having a bull in your corner to support you.  A highly sensitive and very dextrous and intelligent bull.   It was dope.  It was not something you usually see after a ceremony.  The whole vibe of the evening was different from most ceremonies, even from the get go. It was most everyone's first time.  It was crammed into a room in crooked little apartment in Queens as opposed to in nice house out at the very end of the commuter lines, which maybe is actually someone's parents and probably has a yard  and things.   And it was not 99% white, which is also usually the case.  In fact it may not even have been 50% white.   It also didn't have any of that kinda airy fairy vibe aimless vibe that you get sometimes.  The container felt more urban community building - as it turned out, their was a Puerto Rican dude who sat next to me who had been the director of some urban youth thing in Massachusetts for a decade or so.  I really welcomed the variation.  I've been thinking forever about how to bring some of my favorite hippy things to a browner audience - no progress.   And here our man was doing it.  And handsomely.   It was a very positive, supportive environment, but you could sense that there was a little anger, a little a sense of marginalization/disenfranchisement and a lot of revolution in the air.  A lot of times anger seems pointless, but the airy fairy stuff always seems pointless.  The Preacher is Lebanese, mentioned at one point just how much fun airports and customs and a lot of things in America aren't for him.   Hell, I'd be angry too.  But, over all the vibe was dope.  It was deep and present and goal oriented.  

During the ceremony, The Preacher sang a few songs in Arabic.  It was some other world shit.  Had no idea what they were about but they just reached in and moved you.  Like an earthquake.  And I remember having this thought about when I was a little kid, and I knew nothing about the Middle East (as opposed to now when I know three whole about it) and just had this kinda boilerplate American propaganda idea about their being crazy guys over there who wore scarves on their heads and for unknown reasons, were easily incited to pick up assault rifles and bombs and blow up normal people like Americans up, and wondering what the hell was wrong with them that they wanted to do that.  I think I may reread that sentence if I'm ever considering sending my child to a public school in America.  And - in cartoon eight year old medicine world - I was like fuck it, if people were singing like this, I would do whatever they said.  If it said blow up people, I'd do it.  The shit was that deep.   Homey had the voice, the passion, that whatever it was that made you want to rise up.   I have no idea what the songs were about - they could've been about the delicateness of the petals of a rose for all I know.  I kinda laughed at myself, and that window into a long forgotten, and decidedly ignorant perspective I'd had as a child.  But in a way, that's what that ceremony was for me.  It was a call to arms.  I appreciated the tradition, and the singing, and the medicine, but I also appreciated the anger, and the conviction, the sure knowledge of need for revolution.  My man The Preacher wasn't trying to hold space for bored festy kids to examine their bejeweled belly buttons.  My guess was that he's not that interested in healing cancer  - a more typical 'advanced' application of plant medicine.  Mother fucker wants to build a community to heal the whole damn planet.  Have to say, I'm with him.  Here I am on plane, bunch of highly explosive icaros loaded on my mp3 player, and revolution in my heart.  Lets see what happens when I go thru customs…