The fear totally left in one moment. Along with a whole bunch of other things. I was sitting on the can.
I was at my first bona fide Brazilian ayahuasca ceremony. It was in a beautiful open air temple just out of town. A nearly invisible path from a dirt road led to something like a pagoda, with a fire pit in the middle, surrounded by two concentric circles for sitting and roof in two stages that allowed the smoke to escape. Napalm, at who's house we we're all staying had appointed himself as my down and dirty guide to all things Alto Paraisian, said to find the a place on the outer circle. The inside was strictly 'Mafia'.
A lot of people talked about this temple as being the best option in town. And I could understand why. The outdoor setting was great, the vibe was solid and supportive without being rigid, the people seemed warm and real. It was beautiful. Also in most ceremonies, they give you the glass, you drink it and then you go sit down. Here you get your own glass which you could drink where and as you liked, which given the intensity of the taste and the apprehension a lot people have about the intensity of the experience they were about to embark on, made a lot of sense Then they give a slice of lemon to wash the taste out of your mouth. God may be in the cup, but genius is in the details.
The ceremony was loosely based around the Santo Daime structure. Santo Daime is one of the three officially recognized ayahuasca churches in Brazil, the other two being UDV and Barquinha, They were founded in the twenties. These churches are syncretic, meaning they combine indigenous practices and medicine - notably ayahuasca, - african traditions and oddly enough, catholicism. That's right - Santo does mean saint and these people think of themselves as good christians, just like you. Somehow they managed to convince the Brazilian government of this because ayahuasca has been made a legally protected sacrament - when used under the auspices of certified religious practitioner - which meant that technically we weren't breaking any laws. The thing about the churches is that they tend to have very rigid ceremonies, in which everyone sits at attention, sings the icaros (hymns) and remains with a very focused presence. Also like some more traditional versions of christianity, they tend to attract and offer a very tangible form of salvation to people who have substance abuse or other problematic behaviorally tendencies; there ranks are filled with people who swear by the power of the medicine and the ritual in redeeming themselves from lives headed straight to hell. I can see why that kind of rigidness would be good for that kind of situation, but I don't think I'd like it to much, which is why I was glad that this ceremony was only loosely based on Daime. Which pretty much meant everyone was gonna sit a circle, drink the most powerful psychoactive brew know to man and sing together.
Except me. I somehow did not manage to get a song book, still hadn't acquired much Portuguese and well, as those of you who have heard me sing would probably agree, I was didn't feel like I was robbing the circle by remaining silent. Tolstoy was sitting next to me, with his song books. There are a ton. Watching the difficulties he went through to try and figure out how to keep up and remembering how frustrating I had found the process helped me with my decision not to sing. He also had carefully arrayed a few crystals before him - their presence and arrangement seemed somehow significant. I thought for a minute about how essentially no object in my life has any meaning to me beyond it's clearly discernible utility - like the wonderful word processing/edting/music playing capacity of this computer for example - physical objects are valuable to me almost exclusively in direct proportion to their usefulness. But looking at Tolstoy's array, it seemed like it might nice to have objects of a different sort of significance.
I was kinda tired so I curled up and laid down for awhile and closed my eyes and saw, surprise surprise, fractallly patterns. The tea was just starting to work, the patterns weren't that intense and they were oddly organic and gnarly. My experience with X psychedelic is you close your eyes and you see these pretty sharply defined, usually bright colorful patterns, the type varies based on the substance, but it's always pretty crayola. This stuff was dark and muddy. And there were lots and lots of eyes, and knobby sort of reptilian textures, kind like something halfway between HR Giger and Jim Henson. It coulda been creepy but it was really just kinda foreign, with a little bit of eternally present thrown in to spice things up.
And then I went to the bathroom.
Getting things out of your body is a big part of aya. In some spanish speaking countries, they call it la purga, the purge. Vomiting is common, but me, I just tend to spend a little more time then usual on the toilet. The scientific reasons have to do with MAO inhibiting activities of the harmaline contained in the vine which fucks with you serotonin and thymine levels which makes your stomach want to get everything out of there. This can be pretty well addressed by following a fairly strict diet just prior to drinking. It's basically vegan, but no avocados, oil, salt, sugar, or strong flavors, fermented stuff, overripe anything, especially bananas, soy or alcohol. And more importantly avoiding certain pharmaceuticals, most especially SSRIs, which because, like MAOis, also affect your serotonin system and taken together, the combination could at least theoretically be fatal. There's actually quite a bit to it and paying attention can greatly improve the quality of your experience. I'll try to find a link to put up at the end of this post.
The next thing is the idea that the aya goes into you body and finds various poisons or diseases and takes them out. And you puke. I don't have any personal experience with this but it's a pretty commonly excepted part of the lore. The weirdest sounding, but most self evidently true is that the purging takes bad energy out of your body. You can feel in a very concrete way, that whatever it is, an unhealthy pattern you've recognized in yourself, trauma from a bad experience, negative emotions you've been harboring, you feel it leave your body and go into the toilet. No joke. No ambiguity. My experiences regarding this haven't been super intense, but they have been super clear.
So there I was sitting there on the can, with my eyes closed, pushin'. And all the fractally eyey stuff started to get creepy. It went from neutral to very reptilian and was quickly headed for menacing. So I opened my eyes: the door started to bulge in a ugly way and weird tendrilly maggoty things started to reach in from below. Not to cool, but manageable. I was like ok - I get it, there are evil entities from other dimensions trying to fuck with me. Some that come to you with your eyes closed, some that come with your eyes open. There is a whole thing with aya about confronting fears and what not, and at the conference the week before I'd heard all these people talking about working through fear and death and all sorts of horrible seeming stuff and then coming to something really beautiful on the other side, so I was, I guess you could say, open to being terrorized. But while taking a shit was not the time. To vulnerable. I blasted the nastiness away, finished my business and walked away.
It was great to see this kind of anesthetized version of the virus and be like cool, I can deal with you. No doubt it could get worse, but I've got the basic plan. I know the aya world is laughing at me because everyone gets their terror some day, but I'm feeling alright.
What I didn't mention is that this experience was secretly a commercial for mediating. I've always had pretty good luck steering through the waves of good and bad that substances can bring you, but since I started meditating (vipassana,and yes it's true, the retreat is free and it will change your life) it's like I'm driving a Porsche. It really gives me a great ability to observe and be equanimous through the rough stuff, or to kind of compartmentalize the weirdness or focus on something else. Which allow you to say, ok, creepy monsters but not now.
Not surprisingly, the world outside of the bathroom was a much more pleasant place. After a moment of fresh air, I stared to think how much sense it made that the creepies came for me on the toilet - it's where all the bad juju gets dropped of, so of course it's lurking there ready to re-inhabit. I mean I'm sure some of that creepiness was from me, but undoubtedly it was to some extent catalyzed or made solid by all the nastiness that was lurking around. And I realized that was the whole entity thing people talk about. I had asked the people I'd done the aya ceremony with in the New York if I could have some to take home and they gave this stuff about danger and experience and the possibility of being inhabited by malevolent entity. The fear of people freaking out on drugs seemed reasonable enough, though - I felt - a little misplaced in my case, but the entity thing seemed a little bit of stretch. But this bad stuff had a concreteness about it that seemed, well, entity like. If you see something nasty after you take acid, blink your eyes. It will go away. It may turn into a butterfly, or it may turn into something else nasty, but it probably won't stay the same thing. This was just the opposite. Tendrils. Close your eyes, open them again, they're still tendrils, repeat, You still have tendrils. If not an entity, at least a very persistent form of energy.
Often when I'm some kinda high I put a lot of energy into opening up blocked or tense places in my body. Soon I found myself thinking about the shamanic perspectives which say ( in gross oversimplification) that disease or other bodily ailments are curses, or bad entities from other dimensions. I played with the idea of understanding the sciatica in my right hip from this perspective. It seemed like a workable model: instead of trying to open up the tightness, I looked into it and saw creepy snarliness - we could call that bad guys from another dimension - and tried exorcising it. It seemed to work pretty well. Another victory for the argument in favor of 'entities' but I had to ask myself why these things existed. What purpose did they serve. Especially if you believed that the universe was governed by love. What kind of love slides maggots under bathroom doors for chrissake?
Well apparently Professor Aya heard me because she had an answer right quick. Bad energy/entity is a scar or a wound, or something that wasn't loved or allowed to be or express as it was needed. Basically it was a ghost, just like in a teen horror film, floating around because it had unfinished business here in this plane. Except probably these entities didn't need to arrive from something as horrible as what makes a ghost. You didn't have to drown a four year girl in a well of acid on her birthday - you could just be real mean to her, and that meanness would find some other meanness, which would find some more and form a mean entity. And sure, there could be whole universes full of this stuff, because a lot of bad things have happened in the history of the universe. It could work.
So the thing is to get that bad stuff out of you and be done with it. Sounds goofy but it seemed to be working. Then I remembered a conversation I'd had with my partner about the idea that getting rid of bad energy is kind of an incomplete solution, because just like any other kind of toxic waste, it's still around it's just some one else problem. Hence the problem with the bathrooms. The thing to do is transform it. And so I thought about how to transform all these unhappy fearful energies into something good. And then it hit me. Love! It's a classic for a reason. The idea of tempering the monster, of healing the beast through, love, through soft music, through gentleness. It's an archetypical concept. It was even in that Wolfman movie that was just came out, the one with Benicio Del Toro. Obviously if Hollywood knows about it it must be true.
The only problem is that if you love to much, you open yourself - which is not the best strategy for dealing with transdimensional evil that is trying to inhabit you body. But there is always a solution. Love has different flavors. There is that open, receptive love that we associate with romance and dreamy eyed teeny boppers. But way on the other end of the spectra, is a tough, defiant, impenetrable kind of love. Like I'm going to fucking love-attack you with love. Love on the offensive. Love that takes no prisoners. Love that will not surrender. And then I remembered something really dorky I'd heard about that was totally in the gag-me-with-essential-oils category about The Burning Flame of Love. And realized that was exactly what they were talking about. Battle ready love. Love as weapon of transformation. I decided I'd just go for it, dive into my heart and love all the evil that was coming at me with a kevlar coated carbon fiber reinforced utterly impenetrable love. Bullet and boogie man proof.
And it worked. I declared myself a super hero and shot love and white light at the monsters. And they transformed and disappeared. Rainbows and smiles. It wasn't even that hard. Obviously the amount of evil I was dealing with (minor tightness in the thigh) was not epic, but the principle stood. I just stood my ground, called it love, and everything spooky just melted away. Kick ass heart power. Like the scene in the bathroom, this stuff was definitely trial size, but I could see the pattern. I was ready.
Before we go any further, we need to talk for a moment about the dogs. Listen, if you're ever having an aya ceremony you need to come up with a plan for the dogs. Because they were all freaking the fuck out! Really, there are not enough exclamation points in the world to convey their distress. I first noticed it with one who was scratching so hard I thought his paw was going to fall off. It was pretty clear to see that no actually flee bite could create this kind of maniacal behavior. It was all the juju. I have never seen a canine so possessed. So I put my hand to down to comfort him - he barked and snapped nervously, but without any real direction. I continued to comfort him. It really was a Herculean task, he wanted to go psycho, but suddenly he just stopped with the fleas. It had nothing to do with the itching. He was just done freaking out. For the time being. I think there were four dogs and usually about two of them were going crazy. I spent a fair amount of time trying to calm them down but they would usually loose it again pretty quick, attacking foliage, scratching, cowering, spitting, moaning, basically it was a like a dictionary of doggie fear and mistrust. I've never seen animals scared and confused like these guys were. It was definitely well outside of the range of dog weirdness. It seemed pretty clear to me that they could sense all the badness that was leaving everyone much more clearly then the biped contingent.
This whole dog thing was interspersed with the dancing. You're supposed to sit still and sing, but both of those things are extremely difficult for me so I found myself floating away and dancing. All the energy I don't put into singing, I do put into dancing, so this was not really a surprising outcome. What was surprising was how I danced. I'm really all about the catharsis on the dance floor, about really digging down and finding my center and really trying to let loose from there. It is a huge part of how I understand myself and it instrumental to my mental and physical well being. But this time it was like a joke . Light and off center - nothing describes it better then court jester. Find a shape, move out of it effortlessly. No attachment. No weight. No nuthin. To the extent the universe reveals her secrets to me, they are often expressed in movement and this was no exception. I looked down and other people seemed upset about somethings in many ways. This is pretty common in a aya ceremony. Most people do not have as light and fluffy as time as I do. Far more so than other psychedelics, it has a tendency to take you on a tour of that which haunts you - your cigarette habit, unresolved family issues or, some would say stuff from past lives and other universes - help you resolve it and come out a much happier healthier person. And you're ya know, high as fuck, so it's likely to be very a vivid tour. Accordingly, at given moment there's a good chance at least some of the people at the ceremony are going through hell. Incidentally I found this to be far less the case at this ceremony then the one I'd done in the states, which I think was actually particularly focused on this element, but nonetheless, these other kids were not leaping about like court jesters.
And I began to wonder about why. Certainly, it is my understanding that most people have more to wade through in life then I do, but what really struck me here was the attachment to said difficulties. And then it all made sense. That is me. I am the fool. Weightless and unbounded. It is so easy for me to laugh or float away. And it's not a coverup. It's closure. One of my great gifts is that very easy for me to let got of my unhappiness. Why do you let your grievances distress you so deeply? It's so passing, so arbitrary. I felt that energy so completely, realizing how readily we could all just move out of our shit. But we're all just so invested in our unhappiness. We're limited by resources or time or whatever but mostly we just cling like fucking psychopaths to all kinds of garbage, about who we are, what we think we're capable of, what we've been through, the fate of the world, or responsibilities, everything. I certainly see this in myself as well. I'm invested in all kinds of bullshit - this whole failed child prodigy nonsense, this idea that I can't relate to people, that persistent sciatica, eternal financial jeopardy, the list goes on... I mean obviously there are some very concrete components to some of that as there always is, but the vast majority of it is just bullshit that I continue to perpetuate.
But fortunately for me, less so than other people. I looked at the circle of people, some of them well in the process and realized what it gift it is that it is so easy for me to let go. I started to think about people I care about, my mother, my partner, my close friends and see the attachment they have to their unhappiness. It was such a sadness. But of course I could dance right out of it. I thought then and still thinking now about how I can share this lightness, to teach the people that I love how to more easily let go of all these things, these perspectives, these fears, these self limiting ways of looking at the world, these habits, everything that keeps them stuck in that which does not serve. There are of course tons of therapies and whatnot that address this sort of thing - any life coaching or self improvement program has as a huge component letting go perspectives that do not serve - not that those things aren't great; I probably wouldn't have been at this ceremony having this realization were it not for some of them- but to feel it as straight energetic level like that was so powerful so valuable, something you so want to share.
And that was my night, fluttering away, comforting the dogs, watching those with more to deal with in the moment heading off to physical rid their bodies of their unwellness. I found myself oddly aware of people's movements and effortless arranging myself not to be in people's way, which is not usually one of my strong points. I saw some scary shapes in the bushes, that again were hauntingly persistent, of note a flower that caught the light in such a way that it looked like the skull that would've been under the melted face in the Munch etching "The Scream". After glimpsing it a few times I never walked that way again till medicine was well worn down.
And eventually the evening came to an end. The voices that had occasionally shouted ' Shall we drink more?' Instead asked if we wanted soup. And received the same enthusiastic reply. A big bowl of soup was brought out to be put on the fire. The music wound down, the entities began to pack up their bags and I began to realize how exhausted I was. Eventually Tolstoy, who had driven me, and about a zillion other people there, asked if I wanted to leave now or later. I replied with and emphatic 'Now', and soon found myself sardined into a car that eventually made it's way along a very bumpy road and deposited me at my house, just as the dawn was breaking. Exhausted, content and considering the possibility I had forever changed, I collapsed into bed.
This seems like a good primer on what to eat or not. I should mention that down here the word is to avoid animal products entirely and that I took some claritan and didn't seem any worse for the experience.