Friday, January 28, 2011

Enough Already!

Basically, I just needed more. That was pretty much the only conclusion I could come up with. Cool stuff was happening to me when I drank the tea but it just seemed like I was missing something. I was learning a lot about myself, and stretching the borders of what it meant to be human, but there were some pretty common experiences other people talked about that I just wasn't getting. I had yet to be overwhelmed by any undeniable sense of connection to the universe or the divine or the planet earth or even a particularly fetching blade of grass. At absolutely no point had I been given the impression that there was a spirit or an intelligence behind ayahuasca; it just seemed like I was getting a better perspective on myself. All in all it seemed more informative than transformative, and I couldn't help but feel like I was missing out.

So I drank a lot more, starting right after sunset. I experienced similar things - gender, heart, sciatica, sex, etc.-- and felt like there these tentacled scaled starfish inside of me. It sounds like it should be scary but it wasn't even that intense. They weren't even in color, and they had a mild, kind of janitorial energy about them. Like any good crustaceans, were just eating up all the junk that was lying around; in this case it was some kind of run of the mill bad juju that had been stored up inside of me.

And this was all cool and worthwhile, but it definitely didn’t lead to any kind of revelation. I felt like I had basically walked as far as I was going to on the path of the somewhat recognizable, and had gotten to a place where there was a cliff I could leap off into the unknown. But it was late and I was tired and the prospect of yet another glass of medicine and a few more hours before I slept seemed less like the key to enlightenment and more like a hassle and guarantee of missing most of the next day. So it seemed reasonable to call this one a reconnaissance mission and live to fight another day, as it were.

The next day came quick - only a few days before I was scheduled to return home. Due to the strange currents of transportation, food and socializing and other interactions with humankind, I did not make it back to the house nearly as early as I had intended to. I decided to take the medicine and then build the fire and do all the things to get ready; it seemed a practical use of time. And I lie there staring up at the sky, I saw the usual bunch of things.

Same ole' same ole', so I drank another big glass.

And then suddenly….

well things did get weird. When I closed my eyes, I saw this sort of endless cartoony grid of pluming that went on in multiple directions and was compellingly three-dimensional. It wasn't frightening in any sense, but the depth of if it seemed like something I could easily get lost in. In any case it was different. Like really different. And I began to ponder what Cyan had said about how unusual it was that I'd yet to have any unpleasant journeys. And I realized that it had only been ten minutes or so since I'd had the glass; things were going to get weirder. And then I noticed that the fire was getting low. I tried to rekindle it to know avail. I tried to light a few candles, but the matches were all wet. I tried to turn on the flashlight but the battery was low. Suddenly it was dark and cold and I was by all estimates, about to be overwhelmed by a DMT tsunami.

I panicked. What if I couldn't handle it? What if I got really freaked out? What if? What if ? I realized I could wake up Cyan, but he had wanted us to do something in the morning, and accordingly had been less than thrilled that I'd decided to stay up all night drinking ayahuasca. It would be not be a good scene to bang on his door asking for help from something he hadn't been into from the get go. And I'm supposed to be the guy who doesn't freak out. I started to search for anything that would make light or heat while all the ridiculousness of my scenario, sharpened by a moderate dose of fear, bounced around my head. Was I just being vain by not asking for help? Would I be demonstrating that I was spoiled and irresponsible if I did?

Eventually I found some dry matches hidden somewhere, and got candles and then a fire going, and somehow the flashlight came back, and suddenly I was just really ayahuascaed out. But I was warm, and I wasn't worried about a thing. So I put some appropriate music in my iphone and lay back down again to look up at the stars and await the revelation.

It didn't come. It was more of the same flavor without any new dishes. A few hours later, I realized that this was to be my night: I was tired, I was tripping, I was kind of bored, and I was going to stay that way for a while. Mostly I just wished I could press the off button. A few hours after that I was eventually able to sleep. When I woke up in the morning, the total take away was pretty much a resolve to be more vigilant about making sure matches and flashlights were in working order before I drank the tea.

I wouldn't say that I was disappointed, but I'd definitely lost interest in ayahuasca for the time. There was a set of big ceremonies starting a few nights later, but I had no interest in going.

I'm always wondering why my experiences with different substances, especially ayahuasca seem so atypical. I don't freak out the way most people do. I've yet to be moved by the infinite beauty of the forest. This is especially true of aya, but it's true of everything. I have some goofy moments; I do find nature to be more beautiful, but I'm generally a pretty cool customer. I'm never upended. I never hug a tree. I still don't have an answer. Part of me thinks I'm just more grounded and have spent a lot more time picking apart my belly button than most people. Part of me thinks I just need to take more. Part of me thinks other people are just trippin'. But most of me doesn't know.

What I know for sure is that a few days later, I was on a bus back to Brasilia to catch my flight back to the States. What actually happened was a little mini-drama involving loosing my passport an hour from the airport and spending a few days flapping around embassies and airport ticket counters like a madman because I really, really wanted to get back and see my partner, Kali-Kava. Many headaches and a ridiculous amount of money later, I finally got to my destination, only to discover it wasn't there. The details aren't relevant to this story, but suffice it to say that the relationship I had come back to take to new level descended into intractable screaming death throes the moment I walked into the door. This went on for a few weeks, made far worse by the fact that we occasionally thought we had everything worked out, only to fall right off the cliff again. Eventually it seemed like it was over and we were both going to be miserable about if for some time. The night before she was to leave town, I had dinner with two friends of mine, one of whom, The Cowboy, I had done an MDMA therapy session with at burning man half year earlier - the experience had been invaluable beyond words and had switched me from being a person who couldn't quite admit how much he loved psychedelics, to one who actively proclaimed their value and rearranging my life to work with them. And part of that path was my trip to Brazil.

As we were talking about wine and life and some terrifying new weapons technology being developed at Lawrence Livermore Laboratories - this was not a flower covered hippy reality by any stretch - I realized that as much as I had gotten out of my trip to Brazil, and all that ayahuasca, I had gotten far more out of that single evening I'd spent with him and a measly 125mg of MDMA. It's a story for another day, but have to tell you, this man changed my life. Mulling things over, I was reminded of something he had emphasized a great deal before we did a therapy session; that the quality of the result was directly proportional to the clarity of intent going into it. If you had a clear and tangible intent going in, I remembered him saying, you would have a clear and tangible result coming out. If you had some nebulous unfocused intent going in, you would get a nebulous unfocused result coming out. And to be sure, I had put a great deal of thought into the intent of the session I had with him. And a light bulb slowly went on in my head, and it was shaped like a clown gently laughing at me, because for the most part, I had had very little intent for any of journeys in Brazil. And the result was, well, unfocused. And the last ceremony had been completely unceremonial. In my hurry to get ready, I had forgone even the most rudimentary rites before starting. I just took a big shit and made sure there was enough wood for the fire. I had to laugh. Of course the result was nothing.

Eventually I made my way home to spend a last evening with Kali-Kava (not in the biblical sense - we in our infinite wisdom were simply occupying the same space while we were tearing apart from each other) before she got into a great aluminum bird and flew away. We had in our infinite hippy hopefulness decided to have some kind of closing ritual for the end of our relationship in the morning. It seemed wise, but also hopeless. We were just mess extending in all directions. But we did it. We gave ourselves a minute to set our intent, which became an hour. But was very clarifying. We burned some sage and did a few other things and eventually sanctified it by smoking some changa, which is derived from the same bush that adds the DMT to ayahuasca. In this reduction, it's supposed to be 50% inert plant matter and 50% DMT. I had smoked some a few times in Brazil without very undramatic results. I think this mostly because it was so harsh I just couldn't get enough down. In any case, we each took a hit, with an intent that was roughly to heal from the pain our break up was causing us and move forward productively.

And jesus fucking christ, it worked! Fifteen minutes later, (DMT by itself is a very short lived experience) we were in a different place. We weren't back in love, or completely happy, but we were suddenly friends who were amiably removing ourselves from under what had once been a wonderful relationship. We were free from the painful and destructive nonsense that we had been swimming through those past weeks. We weren't grinning bunnies, but we'd made distinct change from thrashing to healing.

An hour or so later, her car came, I hugged her goodbye and she left, leaving the scene with just the right cocktail of bitter sweetness, gratitude for what had been shared, and hope for our (almost undoubtedly separate) futures.

So yeah, don't forget the intent.

* * *

Looking back on it all I think I did get more out of my trip to Brazil than I realized. I've catalogued the revelations that came out of each of the ceremonies pretty thoroughly already and lamented the lack of an Overwhelming Life Changing Experience, but that's kind of selling it a little short. For one thing, the individual experiences are pretty valuable - would ya check out my new heart already - but more than that, I see it really did change how I look at myself, how I relate to the world, and how I think about psychedelics. I have always known the darn things are good for me, and with just a little bit of care, are good for just about everybody. But somehow the idea of calling them medicine, or treating them with the kind of reverence that some people do has always seemed repugnant to me. I mean can't we just call them fucking awesome and leave it at that. But the other night I smoked some weed, and I realized - surprise, surprise - that I felt better. Not just because I was high, but because it relaxed physical tension in my body, because I could better understand things that were bothering me emotionally and let go of those, because I felt more connected to the essence of myself. And those certainly seem like curative properties. Perhaps, I mused, medicine is not a completely inappropriate word. I've also given some thought on how central these, ok, I'll say it 'medicines' are to my life. The experiences on this trip, colorful as they are, were just the current edge of a long and crucial history of chemically induced improvements to my vehicle. In a very real way, taking acid in my late teens took me from being an awkward, asocial, depression prone kid to being something like a 'normal' person. Weed sorts all manner of thorns and snarls out of my head, puts things in perspective, allows me to let go of things I shouldn't be hanging on too. I've been writing about all the great things ayahuasca has done for me. And all of these things have taught me to see myself so much more clearly and understand what my values are and where they come from. And that's not to mention all the fun I've had with them, or the amazing intimacies they've brought me. I shudder to think where I would be today without drugs: alienated and fixated on small realities. And given that, I can almost begin to see why people call them sacred. There is certainly no single thing that has done more for me. People are another matter, but as far as 'things', drugs win hands down. They blow formal education, or money, or even snowboarding out of the water. The only thing that might compare is meditating. So given that they are so valuable to me, and the confidence that I have that with just a little bit of care they could be so valuable to pretty much anyone, I can almost go with 'sacred'. I've always hated that word, and I've realized that the reason is that I most often associate it with people describing something that is far from deserving such an honorific - the American flag or the symbol of whatever religious group they belong too: things that are so abstracted from their original virtues or meanings as to be valueless. And I may still be too cavalier to actually use the word in a sentence, but I can certainly see why other people might describe these substances as such; with the possible exception of intimacy and other human connections, they are the most compelling and accessible access to the truth there is. Were I to believe in the word sacred, I would certainly say that merits its use.

I also found a very open community, something that for someone so often at a distance as myself is incredibly valuable. Open and connecting on values that seemed real to me, something I've never before experienced. Moreover, it seemed like simply one node on a web that stretched across the planet, popping up again in Bali, Ibiza, Goa, and has tiny outposts in pretty much every major city in the world. Somewhere not very from you there will probably people drinking ayahuasca some time very soon, and opening themselves to a reality, that actually seems real to me. Perhaps this is just a daydream projected from afar, but it seemed like I'd finally found a world that made sense to me.

Finally in considering the profundity of the influence these substances have on my life, and the affinity I have always had for them (or perhaps they for me if we we're to start entertaining the to me still unevidenced concept that they might be cognizant entities) and the potential I see in them, it greatly deepened my conviction that they are an important part of the tools with which I am to do the work that I do in this lifetime.

* * *

Some interesting books I've read recently

Being Human

It's by a guy named Martin Ball who basically says that we are all God, and good drugs ( most particularly 5meo of DMT in his opinion) just opens you up to that reality. And all of the fairies and spirits and machine elves and past life regressions and communications with deceased relatives are just our unconscious projecting itself with psychedelic abandon. That they mean nothing. That God (the one who made us and is inside of us) is everything and we need to just get our egos out of the way and let our divinity happen without apologizing for it.

Cosmic Serpent,

This is by the initially skeptical Jeremy Narby who eventually winds up making a pretty good argument that all of the visions that people see on ayahuasca are very concrete things and that shamans are able to look into the their bodies all the way down to the level of DNA, and work from there. What it proposes is basically an eclipse of western medicine, as well as a pretty interesting discussion of the process of thinking and seeing and fairly upending critique of many of the pillars of scientific methodology.