December 12, 2015
At the Sanctuary it is customary to have a day of rest and reflection after each Ayahuasca Ceremony. Last night was our first journey with Mother Aya, and I can already see the genius in how things flow here. Even though I slept well last night, my mind and body feel drained and in need of energy replenishment through great food, rest and relaxation.
I haven’t mentioned the climate, but it’s been very hot and humid. So you can almost imagine how shockingly cold this morning’s Flower Bath turned out to be (baños de flores or Flower Bath is a Shamanic ceremony of healing that closes the previous night’s work with Ayahuasca). It woke me up on many levels. I panicked a bit at the start as full bowls of water were being dumped atop my head. I felt as if I was underwater and didn’t know when it was safe to gasp for air, so I held my breath until doña Eliana moved on to soak the rest of my body. As I sat there shivering and trying to slow my breath don Rober offered blessings through prayer, tobacco and song.
Everyone looks so invigorated and even more beautiful stepping away from the Flower Bath house. Huge smiles can be seen on each barely-clothed human, bodies adorned with sweet smelling, brightly colored flower petals. You start to feel an even deeper, primal connection to The Amazon and her people, plants and animals being part of these rituals.
Yesterday afternoon we gathered outside the ceremonial maloca for a light snack of fruit and tea (we would be skipping dinner to prevent interference with the purging process in ceremony) to discuss how the evening’s Ayahuasca Ceremony would go. We then we entered the maloca to choose where we would like to sit. We were offered a choice between a stationary chair, a rocking chair or a floor mat. I decided I would be most comfortable on the ground so I placed two mats against an outer wall for back support. I chose a spot near an exit close to my room in case I needed to call “baño” for bathroom – the only word we’re allowed to speak during ceremony.
At 9:30 that evening we quietly gathered in the maloca and took our seats, purge buckets placed at each spot. The room was beautifully illuminated by candles. As we settled down, don Carlos handed each of us a few napkins in case we purge during ceremony. I place them next to my water bottle, and scrunch my blanket up behind me for added comfort and and support. Soon our Shaman don Rober offers blessings to the group and then exchanges blessings with each of the other Shamans. When the brew has been blessed (which entails whistling an Icaro and blowing tobacco into each bottle) and measured we start taking turns kneeling at the alter, accepting our cup from don Carlos, pausing for a moment to silently state our intentions, drinking the sacred brew, handing our cup back to don Carlos before standing and returning to our seats. We had the option of lighting and smoking mapacho to heighten the experience, but after the sinus and head trouble earlier I decided to abstain.
I didn’t mind the bitter taste of the boiled down brew of Ayahuasca (with companion plants chacruna, oco yage and huambisa), but I have to admit I stopped before finishing the whole cup. It was too much for me to get down without stopping to breathe, so instead of taking a beat and continuing I got embarrassed and handed the cup back to don Carlos. I should have been more in the moment and focusing on my intentions instead of caring about how I looked – I won’t make that mistake again.
I believe this newness, the anxiety and anticipation around it all is why multiple sessions of Ayahuasca makes sense. You get that initial rehearsal out of the way, allowing you to more confidently dive deeper in the next session. Without striving to explain what any of the visions with Ayahuasca mean, here’s what I experienced:
Perhaps within 30 minutes of drinking Ayahuasca could see a kaleidoscope of white on black – only there was no movement like a typical kaleidoscope. It just had that symmetry of fractals. A few blinks later a more colorful kaleidoscope appeared, but again no movement. I couldn’t help but smile because of all the visions I’ve had in the past (while sober, upon waking from a dream, or during neurofeedback) this one was new.
By the second Icaro I was seeing visions of an eye in the palm of an open hand, which then morphed into a female face mostly hidden behind foliage. Was this Mother Ayahuasca playing peek-a-boo with me? I could now make out half a woman’s face with the exposed eye watching me. This brought on feelings of euphoria as I felt ever closer to finding the answers I seek.
By the end of possibly the third Icaro I was getting impatient and I found myself pleading with Ayahuasca to show herself to me and to heal me – that I was accepting of her guidance and that I trusted her, but the vision faded away all together. Was I not worthy of Mother Aya’s help? Did I not drink enough? I began sobbing, but did my best to remain quiet so I wouldn’t disturb anyone around me. And since I never vomited I tried to accept that these tears were my way of purging.
Others around me vomited somewhat violently, and believe it or not that filled me with jealousy. My logical mind warned me not to compare myself to others, but the ego seemed to be running the show. I was judgmental of the whole process, and soon my jealousy was followed by anger. I couldn’t sit still and became irritable when the personal Icaros started. I just wanted the evening over with.
I hated myself for behaving so selfishly. After all, everyone here has their own story, their own demons, their own needs for healing. With that realization my anger lightened up and shifted more toward compassion for my fellow Seekers. The next time I heard someone purging I smiled warmly, and I meant it. I chose to be happy for others and take the focus off of my victim-hood to make the most of this experience. And I realized what don Howard meant when he said it’s not all in the cup. This experience, more outside the realm of Ayahuasca than within it, was still filled with very valuable lessons. I was revealed to myself in beautiful and ugly ways – lightness and darkness.
Long after the visions ended, and the ceremony was over, I left the maloca to sleep in my jungle bed. I had been through a flurry of emotions, which left me exhausted and in need of darkness and quiet.