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…