Simon D writes:
For my readers, may I request that you suspend any rational thought or judgements concerning the writing below and allow a sense of enquiry and mystery to my exploration of this voyage of Ayahuasca.
In late July my old friend Tim mentioned that he’d heard about an Ayahuasca retreat in Portugal and I too signed up as soon as I could.
Ayahuasca a is a plant medicine used in the Amazon for a long while, and there is some medical evidence, although patchy, as to the transformative ability of the drug to help addicts, those with mental health issues deal with past traumas etc. It is in layman’s terms highly psychoactive and appears to bring out deeply held unconscious blocks or limiting ideas and beliefs in those who take it. In the UK it is illegal as many of these substances are, due in part to the legacy of LSD use in the 1960s. However, the use of plant medicines in tribal cultures is ancient and is part of many rituals for young men and their entry into adulthood and beyond.
I was always fascinated by drugs of this kind and although I had given up illegal drugs many years ago I was fascinated by the potential of these medicines to aid me in my own personal journey to increased mental health.
Having been a part of the so-called self-development or spiritual movement for many years I wanted specifically to have answers to a greater sense of purpose and meaning to my life as well as to see if by taking it I could resolve deep-seated issues of frustration. I’d always had problems with women who were angry, was fearful of conflict and was aware that my desire for control and safety limited me. I also wanted to find out if there was anything beyond my thinking rational mind. I was also wishing to recognise and embrace more fully the dark void which is so often characterised as fearful and death- like.
The retreat in Portugal was arranged by a group of people who had used these plant medicines for some years, they were experienced in guiding participants, ensuring their physical and mental well-being.
The 4-day retreat started with a breath workshop to provide participants a set time for sharing any anxieties and to make conscious their intentions for the upcoming voyage. Conscious Breathing is a useful tool to provide people with a simple way to relax during the voyage and to keep grounded as the effects of the drug take place.
There’s also a ceremonial or ritualistic side to the taking of the plant medicine, the wearing of white clothes, and a calm setting in a large circular building with glass windows, a mattress to lie on and trees and nature all around. I wore a blindfold and throughout the voyage music was played; both calming and highly charged with feeling.
The medicine is taken in a small glass and the taste is a little bitter but not unpleasant. We held the glass to our lips, to our heart and when ready sipped or drank it whole.
The voyage can last for 5-10 hours, and a second dose is available to those who wish to take it after an hour or so. I did so on both occasions.
I’d prepared myself as much as I could by relaxing and telling myself that whatever was to happen to me over the next few hours was welcome and I particularly reminded myself to let go and allow myself to lose control.
After what appeared only a very few minutes, I had a simple insight about my twin brother and was surprised at the power of it. He was born deaf and I had always felt a pressure to look after him. The pressure was a largely imposed upon me, one from my earliest childhood and I’d never truly considered it before in such detail. The effects of the imposed idea was to make me feel that I should always be the person to look after others and act as mediator or helper and put my own interests in second place. The insight contained no real words but was a simple sign to let go of that imposed idea, to free myself from the unconscious burden it has placed on me.
I’d also initially begun to see flashing colours in my peripheral Vision which appeared like an invitation to follow the lights, and I found myself saying that I didn’t want the lights or colours to be some form of beguiling but to reach much deeper into the voyage and seek the answers I’d asked for.
Over the next few hours however,- the power of the drug to provide images and the most dramatic psychedelic expressions was very much part of the journey. Much of what happens is completely out of conscious control and is very much part of the letting go. Today I can’t remember much of this, but the overall picture has been very transformative.
To explain what I saw in words is challenging as the images came and went very fast. I was aware of a profound lesson. This was, that in order to keep up with the images and feelings I had to stop trying to work them out, to let go of any past association. As soon as the rational mind attempted to pin down any idea, the image has moved on, so only by allowing or surrendering to each feeling could I see it or them for what they were. This itself was a deepening discovery for my daily life- to as far as possible to think less and stay in the moment.
As the drug took hold I had a large number of expanding visions – The feeling was that I saw the beginning of galaxies, and their disappearance in a mini-second. I saw life being born out of a vast never-ending swamp, being born without any conscious awareness of itself. So, life itself was being born with no idea of what it was, and was, not unlike a newborn baby , as mystified and horrified, even fearful of its own naked existence. Whereas we might believe in a creator or an omnipresent God, what I saw was that Life really did come out of nowhere, as mysterious and irrational as that might appear. Another feature of these images was a recognition that death never happens. Or that you never see or experience death. Rebirth is an instantaneous phenomenon.
The vastness of the universe and its life and death put into perspective my own wants, needs, desires and issues. A sense that nothing matters arose in me. All the problems of this earth, the pollution, human anxieties seemed as irrelevant as they could ever be. All my worrying had been for nothing. In the same way that we might tread on bacteria or an almost invisible insect and not feel guilty or upset that we might have killed it, so this experience transformed my view of what’s important. Everything is reborn, so stop the worry.
I asked the Mother plant (a term that is used by participants to provide some mental image of what is happening under the influence of the drug) about all my intentions and if she might help me answer my questions and the reply I received was that she had no interest in my worldly personal matters and that I should sort them out on my return. The message that I took away was that these questions would themselves wither away as the solutions to my life’s worries was already being presented to me. These solutions are the ones I’ve outlined above, that I should relax, ride the wave of existence without thinking so much, that my fears were petty and largely self-indulgent. Nothing mattered in the way that I had always previously thought it did.
I don’t mean that my conclusions are selfish, or that I should never act to help others, or to be honest to the worldly matters of this earth, but that they should always be taken in context to the fact the Life always goes on, that our worries and anxieties are often means by which we deflect from a deeper realisation. We are here to live, to love, to enjoy our fleeting existence. In addition, making conscious what we feel and think is an important part of becoming more attuned to Life itself. In our daily life we so often feel disconnected and separate from our fellow humans and from the life outside of us. The voyage shows another way of perceiving this reality.
Another aspect of the journey inside my mind was the gratefulness I felt about Women. As I took off my blindfoldI’d see some women participants lying on their mattress with a deep sense of awe. Some were lying in a deep repose, quiet, at peace, whilst the many female guides were sitting next to participants, holding their hands or quietly talking to them. While I mentioned earlier, I have feared angry women, the healing, loving qualities of the guides as well as my inherent love for women was being reaffirmed during the voyage.
In addition, I too had been helped to the toilet on two or three occasions, and had on one occasion shat in my own pants quite involuntarily. The guides had taken me on the walk to the toilets, waited whilst I had cleaned myself up , patiently displaying so many of the traits that I love about women. They showed no displeasure at my inconvenience but reassured me that this was a common experience. I was amazed by the way that as we had been pretty much fasting for the two or three days leading up to the voyage, my bowels were largely emptied of food, yet I needed to shit. We laughed at how I was getting rid of my shit, releasing old shit in both a metaphorical and real sense. Later I discovered that many of the voyagers had been to the toilet many more times than I had. Shit and old emotions were being gotten rid of. A male guide had also helped in my trips to the toilet and I was humbled how my requests for help were provided to me. Once again I was experiencing letting go and finding out that in this experience that help was at hand. I realised how seldom I ask for help, too proud, too afraid to recognise that help is available in challenging times.
By the end of the first voyage and two strong doses of the ayahuasca I was exhilarated and also exhausted and wondered if I even wanted to do a second day at all.
However, next day I did exactly that, I took my first dose with a far more open mind to the nature of the plant medicine but fully aware that each voyage is utterly different. This time I also had questions for the plant medicine itself. This is a plant grown in the Amazon that had been found by the native people and then mixed with another plant to create the concoction we had drunk. How had they discovered it? Why was it there at all? What is its purpose? I’d already discovered how it had brought me to uncover parts of my unconscious thinking and patterns, but the plant remains a deep mystery.
During the first voyage, although taken over with images and feelings almost completely, this time I wanted to retain some greater objectivity and discover the nature of the plant rather than be totally consumed by its presence. During the previous voyage I’d also faced some darker, more animalistic feelings, I’d felt myself turn into unknowable or indescribable creatures, part snake, part cat, part boar, I’d made strange noises and during this second voyage these images returned. I was very rarely in fear but aware these represented universal symbols as well as appearing quite real to me.
In the second voyage I wanted to remain more fully conscious , watchful even. I still gave myself to the experience but wanted to try to learn more about the plant energy itself
What I discovered was that she – I call her she because everything about her just felt female – had all the attributes of fear, power, anger, manipulation, greed, Love, that any human male or female has. In addition, the plant needs me to exist; without me, she’s just a plant in a jungle, unused, without life. I give her life, just as I give life to everything with my consciousness. So she is either ‘me’ expressing ‘me’, ie just facets of my characteristics, or, in some mysterious way she’s independent of me, with her own needs and desires. This became more evident as the voyage continued, she and I fought each other for my body, she felt like she was trying to invade in such a way as to preclude me, wanting her own existence and I gave it to her willingly but also with some form of agreement that she’d give it back, which she appeared at times almost unwilling to do.
Of course, I may have just been resisting the plant; that might be a credible claim, that I was afraid to give myself to the experience or to fully let go. However ridiculous it may appear, I felt that this struggle, again played out, was also a dance of sorts. Each of must allow the differing characteristics of our bodymind some right to exist. If we shun our violence, if we fear our jealousy, so it becomes the better of us, so to allow these differing energies allows us to recognise ourselves in all our glory.
So, what I have gained from this experience?
In giving myself to this experience, in letting go and allowing myself to feel out of control, I am discovering how more relaxed I feel. Letting go of the shit, letting go of fear, today I swam in the sea and felt no fear, I feel more sensitive and awake to each moment and less tied up with thoughts of the past or future. As much as you believe you can think yourself out of a fear of death, there is no substitute for watching and observing the death of a universe or a galaxy. As to the fear of angry women, I’m now confident about what I love in women and therefore I’m able to see angry woman for what she is; in pain, resistant to being loved, afraid of her own vulnerability.
Moreover, what I discovered in talking to other participants was that they too, to whatever degree, also went on a journey into their own unconscious. In particular, many faced childhood traumas, where they faced again the wrath, the anger, the lack of true loving from their own childhoods. Some screamed, cried and felt emotions they had buried deep in long lost memories. One memorable example was shared afterwards when a now 43 year-old man faced his father. A father who had time and again expressed his anger at his own son’s failings. A father who had bullied his son into submission and fear. In the voyage he faced his father, again in great fear, and slowly the image changed for him. His father wasn’t just angry and disappointed in his son, but was angry and disappointed in his own life, and was himself a victim of his own father’s displeasure. A new realisation of this kind provided a deep healing and new understanding for this 43-year-old man.
Such is the power of the voyage with Ayahuasca.
One final point is to explore any need to take the plant again. I had been previously a little judgemental about the many participants in this group who had experienced the Ayahuasca voyage time and again. It initially seemed to me that if people were repeatedly experiencing the drug it implied no real progress had been made. However, I do recognise that for some the traumas of the past are deeper than mine and the voyage is an expansive journey into those traumas. I feel, for now, no need to repeat the experience, now is the time for living the lessons in life rather than the search for further voyages.