A couple of years ago, when I was feeling that my meditation practice and my inquiry into who/what am I was stalled, three people within 10 days engaged me in conversation about Ayahuasca—a psychedelic plant that has been used for healings and visions in the Amazon for hundreds of years. I had not taken any mood- or mind-altering substances for over 35 years and was surprised to find myself “called” to try psychedelic plant medicines. I decided to go to Peru for a three-week Ayahuasca retreat.
The retreat was beyond anything I expected or hoped for. All the medicine ceremonies took place in sacred space, facilitated by shamans who have worked with healing plants for decades. What we were undertaking and why we were following specific protocols was thoroughly explained and questions were encouraged and answered.
The medicine is not something that can be taken lightly; you know that as soon as you see the thick black brew that the shamans call “Tea.” The ceremonies I participated in began at 7 p.m. and ended sometime between midnight and 4 a.m. Here’s how they unfolded:
When we begin, the great conical-roofed Maloca is dark except for eight candles, their flames flickering in the humid jungle breezes. Each participant is called up to receive the medicine and blessed with, “Journey well.” The candles are extinguished, leaving the hall totally dark, and the medicine begins to move inside me.
There are four phases to my medicine journeys. First, I feel an energetic movement throughout the body, with an increasing sense that I need to vomit—and the vomiting happens. Second, there is an intense psychedelic experience with visions and a continuation of the strong energy flowing throughout the body. Third, I meet Ayahuasca as a presence. I feel her as a powerful being and we are meeting in a space between imagined worlds. Ayahuasca dances me, she shows me whatever fear is present, whatever love is present. She shows me a great moving portrait of what I am—beyond a personal body-centered identity. Fourth, I emerge, in stages, from the deep psychedelic space into a deeply relaxed contemplative space. Here I begin to receive insights that stay with me and guide me. I see the patterns in my life that support my wholeness and the patterns that keep me small.
The plant medicine is an expression of Life’s wisdom, a movement toward wholeness, showing me that I am not simply interconnected but interconnectedness itself. Whatever is happening to the least of my brethren, is happening to me.
Integrating the insights and changes that flow out from this work is ongoing. I’m always bumping up against old thought patterns, habits, and fears. With halting steps, the sense of “I” is softening and less fixed.
The I-self that seemed so solidly located in the body and the mind is now often experienced as non-located or everywhere-located. There is more often a sense of fluidity, moving from embodied and solid to diffuse, to no-where/every-where and to no-thing/every-thing.
Identity becomes an open question, an exploration. Inquiry as a living presence has displaced curiosity and any sense of being an observer. It seems to me at this point that identity, held lightly, can be functionally useful, a way of taking a stance in order to achieve a practical outcome. And that identity is only a problem when I start to believe that it’s what I am and all that I am.