A Return to the Dead?
On the day of the second ceremony, to say that I was anxious would be a gross understatement. I was completely terrified of going to that place again. As a result, I erred on the side of moderation for probably the first time in my life. I took slightly less of the vile mixture and attempted to relax, meditating while it began to take hold.
When the ‘medicine’ kicked in, that familiar sensation of nausea returned, to minimise my suffering I forced myself into purging. I hadn’t been thrown through the wall of consciousness, so I was able to make it to the toilet by my own power. Given the choice, I was all about puking in private. Vomiting three feet away from another person’s head was just too weird.
I began what was a light psychedelic experience. There were some mild visuals, shapes morphing into animals but my consciousness remained firmly rooted in reality and there was no return to the dead.
At the point that everyone began to purge, I sat in the dark, forced to listen and watch dudes vomit. It felt like an unbelievably bizarre way to spend one’s evening. I was reminded of the opening scene from ‘Once Upon a Time in America’, and I was De Niro lying in the opium den, except for the fact that everyone around me was ejecting the contents of their stomachs with an unparalleled ferocity. I didn’t appreciate this revelation, it felt somewhat dirty.
In this conscious state, I also felt like I was prying on those around me. My new friends were visibly dealing with some very difficult and personal issues, and I unwillingly had a front-row seat.
Listen to the Flower People
Witnessing, and indeed taking part, in this ancient religious ceremony was fascinating. Akin to most religious practices, it certainly appeared ridiculous; the incessant blowing of cigarette smoke, spitting aftershave, and singing songs taught by flowers. My own feelings towards the ineffectual nature of these practices did not dampen my enjoyment, however. The icaros (‘magic’ songs) of shamans, Estella and Antonio, were a joy to behold. I would happily sit and listen to them minus the pomp and the psychedelic.
Estella unleashed rapid fire lyrics like Big Pun when he was, “Dead in the middle of Little Italy, little did we know that we riddled two middlemen who didn’t do diddly”, intermittently switching to a deep and raspy flow that was Lauren Hill-esque, before dropping her voice to an unearthly vocal quiver that would be un-replicable, by Biz Markie himself. Then, without warning, male shaman Antonio would cut in like Mike D and start to do his thing with this incredible voice that sounded five hundred years old.
I had no idea what they were saying, but if the flowers gave them the lyrics, I would go out on a limb and say it was plant based. There were multiple times over the course of the evening where I wanted to arise from my mattress and start to chop it up, but it felt akin to dancing at a Catholic mass so I resisted the urge.
Down with the Sickness
After the genuine fear prior to the ceremony, I was actually disappointed that I didn’t experience the death. Thus to begin the third ceremony, I drank two thirds of a glass of ayahuasca. Far from returning to the dark depths of the first ceremony, I had a whole other experience. I spent the entire night in the throes of extreme sickness. When it kicked in, I had severe nausea which wouldn’t let up, no matter how many times I vomited, which was a lot! Strangely, I also acquired flu-like symptoms in addition to constipation.
There was no escape from it, everything around me was making me feel worse. The tobacco smoke that was constantly being blown in my face caused me extreme displeasure. I wanted to scream ‘stop blowing this cancerous poison at me you sadistic bastards’, but I felt far too sick to muster up the effort. It felt like going to the doctors completely healthy and being administered with a stomach bug and flu combo, then being forced to smoke a pack of cigarettes in lieu of a prescription.
It was a thoroughly horrible way to spend five hours of my life – I decided never, ever to repeat it. I saw little benefit in bringing this level of discomfort on myself again.
The sole highlight came when I felt a thought leave my head. Not in a metaphorical sense, the thought distinctly popped out and floated away. I began to ponder whether it was possible for a thought to physically leave a person, and if it did would it have its own consciousness? Where did it go? And once the thought had left, would a person still have ownership over it?
This line of thinking led directly to an epistemological study into my own beliefs. As I lay, I traced my thoughts on a range of issues backwards to their genesis. It occurred to me that, whilst I claim to be rational and sceptical, I believed some silly things for a variety of unfounded reasons. This ended up becoming a long and arduous task, yet thoroughly worthwhile as I managed to rubbish some deeply held stupidity and banish it forever.
Level 10 on the Woo-Woo Scale
My journey with ayahuasca was a memorable experience. But was it a positive and was I healed? Well, I am not sure how much healing I actually needed in the first place. I did enjoy the deeply introspective aspect of it, and it highlighted a number of areas for me to think about. It even forced me to completely 180 on a couple of things that I once believed.
The highlight of my time at the centre was the wonderful people that I was able to meet and befriend, a real eclectic mix of age, occupation, social class, ethnicity and beliefs. I felt privileged to spend time with cats that under other circumstances, I would never have had the opportunity to interact with.
Everybody had an intriguing story and their own reasons that had lead them to the Amazon. For example, second-in-command at the centre had given up an acting career and abandoned Los Angeles for the jungle. He had pursued his dream of helping people through ayahuasca, as he himself had been transformed by it. These truly amazing people opened up about their lives in ways that I would never feel comfortable, which in itself has given me something to look at.
The issue that I had with the experience as a whole was the complete lack of a scientific basis. There were a lot of claims made by people who were not nearly qualified enough to make them, and there was the propagation of woo-woo on a grand scale.
Ayahuasca was not a magic wand that could cure you of all ills, physical and psychological. Current research has shown potential benefits in treating psychological issues, but there is absolutely no scientific evidence to suggest it can heal physical ailments. Voicing the belief as fact, that it could cure anything from cancer to athlete’s foot, was dangerous bullshit.
Some of those who visited the centre had serious issues, and I felt like they were being sold magic beans in the form of healing plant spirits. These people needed to be empowered. If any ‘healing’ was to take place, it was on each individual person working through their problems.
This is not to say it was a swindle, far from it. The centre itself was picturesque in every sense, the staff were wonderful and I could have lived off their food forever. The owner, had the best intentions and wanted to help those under his care. The problem was, he was not qualified to do so, and I don’t believe that in a position of power you should be filling desperate people’s minds with ‘facts’ which are easily refutable by a seven-year-old with an active command of a keyboard.
The research shows that there is something in this, I just think it needs to be made a secular experience, rooted in science. I also think it would be more fun, doing it in a field, on a sunny day with a group of your close friends, close enough that they wouldn’t be averse to an accidental spray of vomit.