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  • Max Walsh

A Journey: Plant medicine practices

If who I was when I was at school were to meet who I am now, he would be shocked. To find me talking of anything spiritual would be hard to be believed by the version of me that was so logical and anti-religious; anything metaphysical was a nonsense to not be given any time to.


But then there was a point in time that my younger self was yet to experience, that would change everything. A “spiritual awakening” induced by a very large dose of a couple of psychedelics. Mostly LSD.


I had experimented with a lot of chemicals before this moment, and I was well into the deepest depths of my mental illness by this time, but this occasion saw me dosed higher than ever before. Your average LSD trip may last around 8 hours but this one had me tripping from Friday night until Sunday night. It took me beyond a “getting messed up” to a place of “what the heck even is my existence!?”


I was no longer myself, and I found myself in a space behind my life and mental issues. It showed me that I was something outside of the box that my consciousness had been contained within, the mindset that had trapped me for so many years. The doors of perception had been blown wide open.


If your current perception is the ground floor of a skyscraper then psychedelics can shoot you to the very top floor and allows you to see things from a higher perspective. But only temporarily. What goes up must come down; though the ride down is gentle and kind.


After this weekend of heaven and hell, I was myself again but with a knowing that I could be something more. I began investigating what I had experienced, without really knowing the language to use. It took me a long time, until eventually I came across “chakras” which resonated with some of the things I had felt.


Without using any substances I began exploring meditation and slowly opened to the possibility that maybe there was something to all this spiritual nonsense, especially when I began finding myself in states similar to what I had experienced through chemical means.

At some point I then came across “The Doors of Perception” by Aldous Huxley.

In The Doors of Perception, Huxleys experience leads him to exploring the idea of there being a “mind at large” of which we are all a part of, with our brains being a “reducing valve” to allow only a small amount of information in; as the amount of information to experience would otherwise be immobilising. This is close to the common revelation found by all plant medicine practitioners (eventually).


Reading of a psychedelic exploration in such a thoroughly thought out and eloquent manner gave weight to my feeling that there was more to a psychedelic state than just “getting high”; that it was something that could offer insight and direction.


For about 3 years, I was working on myself, meditating every single day without fail for 2 years, and keeping myself mostly hidden from the world so as to give my full time and focus to repairing my mindset.


During this time I came across another book, “The Spirit Molecule” by Dr Strassman. In it, Strassman recounts his testing of DMT, dimethyltriptamine, the first ever and, to my knowledge, only clinical trial of DMT. The powerful and transformative experiences had by all those who were tested on, and the long lasting positive outcomes of the DMT trips interested me, again somewhat resonating with my own awakening. It was the feedback from a monk that stuck with me. He claimed a DMT experience is “as close as you can get to the other side, without getting there”. I knew then that this was something I wished to explore someday.


In my own journey with meditation, after a few years I had found myself at what I called my “spiritual speed bump”, where I kept arriving at a similar point in my practice and I knew there was more to uncover, but no matter what I was doing, I couldn’t get there.


I decided I would start putting money aside to save up for a trip to southern America, to hunt down a shaman to provide me with an ayahuasca ceremony. Putting aside £250 a month, on the third month of saving, an advert came up on my Facebook feed...”5 day master plants ceremony in Mallorca” of which Ayahuasca would be featuring. The cost of it? £750. I signed up immediately for that coming October 2017.


Ayahuasca is a brew of 2 plants. A vine is the part that contains DMT, and the second plant is an enzyme inhibitor. Normally if you were to ingest DMT then it would be destroyed in the gut and lead to no effect, but the enzyme inhibitor prevents this so the body can carry DMT around, which can have an active experience for around 4-6 hours (unless you drink more during the process) though I would say it’s effects are permanent. A mind expanded by new experiences cannot return to its old dimensions.


So I set off to Mallorca with all the euros in my pocket, all on my own, to meet an unknown person at the airport, with a group of unknown people, to take me to an undisclosed location... Fortunately it all turned out rather well.


I was to have 5 ceremonies over 5 days, and I’d be lying if I didn’t admit I thought I was just going to have some fun out of body experience because “I had come so far in my spiritual practice” that I’d be blessed with riding dragons around the universe. I smile as I write this because I couldn’t have been more wrong...my ego was due a slap in the face. I had absolutely no idea what I was going into. Nothing in my life had ever bared any resemblance to what I was about to experience.


The first ceremony was a fire ceremony. About 20 of us were all sat outside on this land with a fire in the middle of us, and it began with the use of the tobacco plant taken in various forms, such as chewing the leaves and smoking it in its unprocessed form. There was another thing or 2 it involved though I cannot remember what they were. Finally we were given this black shiny goop to put in our mouths under our tongues to allow it to dissolve. At that point I had no idea what it was.


We all then stood up and began to move around the fire. I don’t know how long this went on for but we were moving and then dancing around the fire, eventually all shouting “OOH” as loud as we could from our bellies into the fire, which was one of the most amazing and bizarre things I’ve ever done, but wow...


Before I went to Mallorca that first time, I had twice attended a 10 day Vipassana meditation retreat. For the 10 days you do not speak, or communicate with anyone for the time you are there. You don’t write. Or read. You do nothing except meditate for about 10 hours a day between breakfast and lunch, and a few short walking breaks.


I had learnt much in the hours of sitting in stillness, managing to sit for several hours at a time. Sitting extra when possible.

When you sit for such a long time the initial discomforts that stir in the body eventually dissipate and you realise they were never really anything other than illusions created by a mind demanding you live out your habitual patterns. The more you sit, the discomforts change to pains that feel like threads sewn through your bones, challenging the equanimity of your mind.


I had been sitting for hours with a pain in my knee that I could not let go off. It’s presence was like a black hole, stealing all of my focus, all of my awareness, from which I could not escape from - except for breaking out of my meditation.


After several sittings, after many hours, suddenly it began to ease. Slowly fading, I felt it’s release and although I was sat upright, it was like my forehead was on my knee. But from there as the pain left, I began floating up my body, from my leg, through my belly and chest... When I reached my head I realised...I was about to have an out of body experience!


I floated and floated until I was at the precipice and as I was about to leave my body... I opened my eyes. I snapped out the experience. Why? Because I didn’t want to fart (or worse) in a hall of 200 people.


In a moment, a logical train of thought plowed through my experience. Surely if I were to leave my body then I would loose control of it, and if I lost control of my body then I would do something I would not wish to do!


So that was that. I had arrived at what I called my “spiritual speed bump.” I had been offered a glimpse that there was more, but I was unable to get there. I was open to the possibility of it coming again but something was holding me back.


Fast forward back to the fire ceremony in Mallorca...


Jumping and dancing around that fire with everyone, I hadn’t felt so free and alive in so long. We were all ecstatic and laughing as we circled the fire until the Shaman brought us to stand around the fire, our arms over the shoulders of the person either side of us. We stood there and closed our eyes, feeling the warmth of the fire and the energy we were sharing.


Then I realised...I didn’t feel normal. Something was weird. As I stood there I couldn’t feel where I ended and the fire began. I recognised I was having a psychedelic experience, that the paste we had taken was altering my perception. Panic set in.


I couldn’t figure if I was too close to the fire, or whether I was on fire...I wanted to get away but I was held by the shaman to the left of me and another participant to the right of me. I couldn’t move backward as the Shamans table was right behind me. I started feeling strange sensations like I was wet and I started to worry that I had lost control and pissed myself so I broke the circle to get away from the fire but I was called back and held there again.


I stood there worrying that I’d pissed myself, or worse, freaking out that everyone could tell but I couldn’t. And that’s when the shamans translator said “remember your inner child.”


Like I’d been hit with a baseball bat, I was launched back to a memory when I was 7 years old, walking with my family and godparents up in the Lake District. We had walked from my godparents home to a house a few miles away, through long winding country roads, to give a dog back to some friends of theirs. When I got there I was in serious need of the toilet but decided that I could wait until we had returned back to my godparents. En route, I had made a miscalculation and ended up walking back very uncomfortable and very upset.


This emotional memory had left an impact on me all these years without my realising. The emotional trauma of this experience had left me with a fear of having an accident. Deeper than this was the fear of loosing control; classic ego. And so I had found the roots of the problem that was my spiritual speed bump.


The circle broke and everyone was hugging and so happy...apart from me. I stumbled back to my chair in the circle and sat down. I felt horrible, like when you’re so drunk and the rooms spinning, except worse. I tried to breathe and calm myself. Suddenly I felt a movement inside of me and I had to jump from my chair onto all fours. On the floor, in the grass, I threw up.


This was a preview of what lay ahead for me, though I had no idea at the time. This was my first purging. However, it was my only purging on this retreat. A purge on ayahuasca is pretty common, and before it’s understood or experienced it doesn’t sound appealing at all, but it is a cleansing of the old toxic energies we carry. This first purge was a releasing of emotional childhood traumas. The fear of ever shitting myself again was gone, just like that.


The next morning was my first experience with Kambo, the vaccine of the jungle. Kambo is a poison secreted by a frog, and this poison is collected by the shamans to use as a cleansing and strengthening tool.


We were woken to the team saying “Kambo ahoraaaaa!” (Kambo now!). A few people went before me and I remember watching them thinking “I might change my mind about this...” but I wasn’t going to chicken out. To administer Kambo, a burning stick is used to burn off a small dot of skin and then a little blob of the poison is placed on the opening. Before being given the kambo, you must also guzzle down a good 2 litres of water (which to be honest I think is the hardest part!)

This first time was on my right forearm, and I was given 4 dots; the scars of which you can still see today. As soon as the poison was on my arm I could feel it inside of me, moving up my arm and into my body. As it reached my heart it started beating like crazy. The kambo moved up my neck and my airways tightened. As it moved into my head I could feel my face swelling and puffing. I could feel the poison in the whole of my body, making me feel very ill.


I don’t know how long I sat like this. It took a while, my whole being feeling horrendous. I sat there thinking “what am I doing?!”


Then it was like something in the top of my head popped and I vomited into a bucket. All the water I had drunk carried the poison out of me, and I purged up this fluorescent orange bile. Once I had finished clearing my insides I sat back up, and although my face still had a lot of swelling, I felt incredible!


Since this first session, I have done it many more times, with tiny little scars on my body for each dot done. I now have my own Kambo to use at home, though my experience of it is very different as my body is cleaner than it used to be and I understand the energy of the medicine more.


To be continued.

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