Of course, other things happened at these retreats but I will stick to just talking about the plant medicines as much as I can.
That evening was to be my first experience of ayahuasca. Myself and the not so stranger strangers sat inside a yurt, around the sides in a big circle. I was sat next to the entrance with the shaman team opposite me, at the deepest point of the yurt.
The ceremony began with rapéh to prepare us. Rapéh is a sacred tobacco snuff that comes in many different forms and strengths. As this was first time with the medicine we were being eased in gently, though the rapéh was still enough to cause people to violently purge. The medicine is blown up each nostril and this takes some getting used to.
Once all was settled and calm again, the ayahuasca was to be distributed. One by one we went up and sat in front of the shaman, taking from them half a coconut shell with the ayahuasca in, and glugging the medicine down.
It is a strange substance, and you never know quite how it’s going to taste or feel. There have been times I’ve thought “that’s quite nice” which fortunately was the case with this first time, though maybe because I was expecting it to be awful, but there have been other times where I’ve struggled to take a mouthful without gagging...There was a while where I would instantly throw up, but that’s another case entirely.
After swallowing the huskfull, we went back to sitting in our places. It takes a while for the effects to kick in, and I don’t know how long I was waiting for, with us all sat quietly whilst some music played off of a speaker, but the entering into the process is a very soft gradual thing where initially you may notice something but then noticing is enough for it to disappear again, and then after a while you realise...you’re in it now. It creeps in slowly and then swallows you whole.
To try and explain a psychedelic experience to someone who has never had psychedelics before is for the most part impossible. How can you explain experiences that exist beyond our senses? How can you put into words the merging of subjective realities?
Trying to translate the experience to the uninitiated is like trying to draw a white object with a black crayon, it’s not even close to being the same language. So as I move forward with this, please know that I am not doing it justice and I am bludgeoning the face of a unicorn by even attempting to do so.
As I said before, I thought I was ready to explore the outer realms of consciousness, to harness a dragon and ride around the universe. But that first journey with the medicines...I was overwhelmed.
My consciousness had become severed from my body and I was free falling though a realm of unfolding kaleidoscopic possibilities. I was somewhere where everything existed but without form. There was no space or time, no direction to be found, just echoes of something that might exist but that changed as soon as it was noticed. Opening my eyes sort of brought me back into the room but I couldn’t escape this dimension of pure creation.
At some point in the evening, the shaman called out to me, “Max, Come”, beckoning me over to him. It took a moment to process this command, and I apprehensively got up and attempted to walk through the yurt to sit in front of him; no easy feat!
I dumped myself in front of him, “how are you?” He said. I sort of just nodded and said “yeah”. And then he placed another cup of ayahuasca in front of me. Suddenly I could feel I was the centre of attention. Everyone was watching me. I was the first to be offered more and I couldn’t understand why. I can tell you then and now, I felt absolutely no need for anymore! I could feel all eyes on me, watching this boy to be the first to step into the unknown. I was very confused.
I could feel the expectation of everyone around me. Everyone waiting for me to be the first to go deeper. I picked up the drink, and then put it back down, standing up to go back and sit in my spot. I wasn’t going to drink anymore! I was struggling enough as it was!!
The ceremony moved on without me, I had no idea what anyone thought of me and my actions but I was in no frame of mind to care. I just wanted to get back to reality.
All I can really remember from that night is being swirled around in a giant washing machine of kaleidoscopic imagery that could be something recognisable, if it didn’t change so quickly.
On re-entry, the experience began to soften and if before had felt like being thrown around by the ocean, I was now washed up on shore with the soft waves of the water bringing me back to consciousness.
Eventually the evening settled and it was time for sleeping. I gave myself to slumber like I was being reunited with my long lost mother.
The next morning I woke, and saw the person next to me was also awake. “Well. That was overwhelming” I said.
“...yeah...” she replied in a daze.
I thought to myself how this was only the first night...there was more ahead.
This following day I experienced “Integration”. Everyone sat in the yurt (after some more kambo!) and one by one we were each given as much time as we needed to share our experience the night before. This process is as powerful as the journey on the medicine.
Each person shares their experience with the group, and the shamanic team sometimes probe further with questions or help to put things in context, guiding the speaker to a better understanding of what they went through.
When it came to me, a woman in the team who, at the time, I saw more as a caretaker than a shaman listened to my recounting of the night and then when I’d finished she asked “and why are you angry?”
Instantly I laughed “I’m not angry?”
“You’re angry. Why are you angry?”
She pushed and pushed and I ended up getting angry! I started defending myself amongst a crowd of who I still saw as strangers, proclaiming my story and how I’m not angry because I’ve come from homelessness and mental illness to where I am now! All the while feeling very frustrated.
On finishing my little story of my little life, she nods and says “but why are you angry?”
I didn’t know what else I could say. So I just sat in silence and shrugged. The integration moved on to the next person.
That night was another ayahuasca ceremony. It unfolded in much the same way that the previous night had, but this time I had a better idea of what to expect and managed to stand back from being overwhelmed, keeping control on the process by keeping my eyes open and paying more attention to the room and others around me than to my own experience. When the “booster” second cup was offered, I put up my hand with a smile and said “no, not for me thank you.”
Most others did drink more and the energy in the yurt became crazy as the others (not so much strangers now) went into a more intense process, with many purging. I sat there trying to have a good time with people purging into buckets either side of me so I decided to leave and go sit outside on my own.
There is one thing in this life that no experience can ever top, and I would wish that everyone could have it just once. Sitting outside on a clear night sky, looking out into the infinite space we exist within, with all its speckling of twinkling stars whilst in a state of hyper-awareness from plant medicines, is life changing. I think it was then that I remembered how to love life again.
I sat there on my own until one or 2 others wondered out to join me.
“I feel like I’ve paid a load of money to just come and sit with some Spanish drug dealers” I say to them.
The shaman (his wife being the shamama) came out and found us sitting there, and very politely tried to ask us to come back inside. I respected what he was trying to do, but I was quite happy sat outside and let that be known. I agreed I would come back inside eventually.
I didn’t recognise this at the time, but fear held me back. I was keeping myself from what the plants had to show me, distracting myself from my own experience by watching others. I didn’t want to “loose control”. The ego is as clever as you are.
The following morning was another integration (after some more kambo of course). I felt much better this time, having not been overwhelmed by the experience but rather just having a mostly enjoyable time and so when it came to my turn to share, I was quite happy.
“And so why are you angry?”
Is this fucking lady for real. Is she really doing this again? I thought to myself. I must’ve just stared at her in disbelief. And then she asked me a question that changed everything. “What happened when you were 16?”
She had seen straight into me. The question hit me like a punch straight to the chops and my guts at the exact same time. “My parents split...” and then I cried. I cried like I had never cried before, nor have I cried like that since. It’s the best cry I have ever had.
This all ended with me having to stand up in front of each person in the yurt and say to every one of them “Hello. My name is max. And I am angry.” All the while tears still falling. I had hated that woman. But she persisted despite that and after 2 questions had helped me see that I was in fact very angry. The ceremony the previous nights had opened me up and made me sensitive, so with a little bit of prodding I had no choice, the truth was revealed for all to see.
That night was a very different ceremony, and one of the best of my life. We were not to be working with ayahuasca but with the plant medicine San Pedro, a cactus native to America. We were given a little white plastic party cup, and the shaman came around dishing out a few spoonfuls of some brown grainy powder.
One of the lads next to me made a comment like “is that it?!” So the shaman gave him a look and said “ok” and poured some more in. This scared said lad, so he swapped our cups. With it being the last night and our last ceremony I decided I was alright diving in a bit deeper.
The energy of San Pedro is very different to ayahuasca, and all of us there were set up for ceremonies like the nights before. Instead, we had the most confusing time to start. The shamans and team provided music for a short while and then said it was time to settle down...Really?! None of us were ready to settle down, we were still waiting for something to happen! People started getting mischievous and rebellious. So the team left. Some tried to settle but others were not ready, so tensions were being worked out. Then the team came back and played more music. This happened a few times. Were they messing with us? What was going on?!
We were offered boosters at one point or another, so more San Pedro was taken, and still nothing really seemed to be happening. After what seemed like hours of chaos, we all settled down. And that is when the magic happened.
I had my eyes closed and I could see this abstract art. Art so beautiful that if I could recreate it I would be heralded as a great abstract artist. But a shape moved, or rather, I moved the shape, and I realised it was my own consciousness. I could see my own consciousness expressed as art, and so I recognised the other shapes and spaces around me were the others around me. I was in a place of such calm and serene energy that I wanted to share this with everyone, so I moved my consciousness around to the other shapes and shared with them what I had found.
After a while I could feel a seismic movement of the yurt I was in, like it was being swung around and gravity was changing in intensity, pressing down on me and then lifting away. I opened my eyes and could see light moving around the yurt as with the gravity, turning the yurt into flying saucer.
I held my hands out in front of me and saw them change from my hands into younger hands until they became baby hands. I realised I was travelling back in time and I was now a baby again inside my mother’s womb; I could hear and feel memories of this time of my life.
I had further to go though. I was being transported back in time. Human time was over in a moment and then I could hear ancient beings, giant land lizards that roamed the Earth millions of years ago. But I had further to go. The plants wanted to show me more. I found myself suspended in a place before time, before anything physically existed.
I could feel existence, but it was only a possibility at this point. An awareness becoming aware of itself. And then strands coalesced out of the nothingness to create something. Pure consciousness was creating something, and this something changed and collided and collapsed and grew and formed the primordial building blocks that led to the creation of this universe and I watched as earth became.
It was magnificent and beautiful. But I had seen enough. I wanted to come back and in some way I did, but it was all still happening, the plants were still carrying me and I wondered if I was ever going to be ok again... had I gone crazy forever now? I realised others around me had been sleeping, but I hadn’t slept at all, and now morning was returning and the others were waking, yet I lay there, eyes wide open staring into the ceiling, very aware of the inescapable sunlight.
I was simultaneously the best I’d ever been, and the worst. Everything was wonderful, but I also thought I’d lost my mind. I cannot recall speaking to anyone, though I must have done as I made my way to breakfast. Stepping out of the yurt into a sunny morning, I could see a dimension to all life that I had never noticed before, as if the 3D to everything had been accentuated. Everything was so alive. The last thing I can remember of that morning is looking at my breakfast, and seeing the amount of love and care that had been put into it, and struggling to hold back the tears I look up at my friend Chris, who I can see has had a night much like my own, and recognising that in each other, we both sat quietly crying with gratitude.
The week was mostly over. Over a few days and four ceremonies, everyone had gone through powerful experiences that created huge shifts inside each of us. Little did we know, that week turned out to be the beginning of new lives for all of us. But before it was over, there was one last medicine to work with.
Bufo Alvarius. 5-Meo-DMT.
This medicine was to be inhaled. I watched a few others go before me, and all I could see is that I had no idea what I was about to experience.
I stood outside on a little wooden platform with a mattress on, the shamans around me. The weather couldn’t have been more perfect, there was no cloud in the sky, the sun was in front of me and I could see mountains in the distance.
Standing up, I inhaled a big gulp of smoke and held my breath. The shaman held my nose and covered my mouth to make sure I absorbed as much of the bufo smoke as possible. It didn’t take long before I suddenly felt very different. Standing didn’t seem feasible so I made my way to sit down, though everything was moving in slow motion with a real ethereal feeling to it. As I sat, the team held me and I lay down on the floor, feeling like I was sinking down and away from my body. Everything was whispy, like in movies when someone on the operating table is dying, lights trail as they move. As the team moved around me they seemed to trail through space, and though they were almost on top of me, they seemed a million miles away.
I could feel my atoms disintegrating. I suddenly realised that I was dying. I was dying, and if I let go then I would be erased from all existence forever. I would have never existed in the first place, and nobody would ever know I existed. But after an age, I realised that it could not be fought. That some things are inevitable and we must surrender to them. So I let go. All I remember is white light. A white light that was more than light. And in this light was Love. Quantifiable, infinite Love. In that space there are lessons that can never be translated. But I started coming back. I opened my eyes and could see the sky. I could feel people tapping at me, and others singing and playing instruments. I was guided to sit up and tuned in to those around me. I felt like my brain had just been upgraded. I could see the love in everything around me. I could feel the energy moving through the rivets in my fingerprints. I stood up and laughed because I was so tall, exclaiming how everyone else was so little!
I returned to my seat to watch the last few others go through their own experiences. Each one was completely different to the others.
To be continued...