Ayahuasca and I: Not your typical trip report – Part 1 – By James W. Jesso
As the title suggests, I don’t intend to tell you the same thing you have heard over and over again about “Mother Ayahuasca”, visions of serpents, and purge buckets. I believe focusing on these elements of a psychedelic experience can work to re-enforce belief systems that distract us from understanding the lessons we are being offered. To focus on just the symbols and not the symbolism behind them, misses the bigger picture. I want to offer to you what I learned from Ayahuasca about blind faith, religious idolization and seeing through bullshit. Please keep in mind, I have only taken Ayahuasca twice and didn’t even sit through the entire second ceremony. My opinions on this experience are not based in a deep investment or experience with that particular medicine. That being said, I am quite familiar with psychedelics and thus don’t consider my opinion unmitigated. Simply because I am unfamiliar with the depth and complexity of the Ayahuasca experience, does not mean I am incapable of understanding my own experience. A belief otherwise (that the psychedelic experience is too complex to grasp) only generates the very confusion we link to it.
Also, the bulk of what I learned goes in the face of commonly held beliefs surrounding the nature of the Ayahuasca experience. Take it or leave it; I don’t expect many people to like this article. I have learned the hard way, the ego holds tight to its beliefs and lashes out at those who challenge them.
Before we continue with this article, please familiarize yourself with Ayahuasca, so that you know what it is that I am discussing.
Not long ago I was offered the opportunity to sit with some well-established Curanderos (ceremony leaders, sometimes referred to as “shamans”) in a Shipibo-style Ayahuasca ceremony. It was a three day weekend retreat. I went in with what I felt was an open mind. I had no experience with Ayahuasca and I wanted to get the most from my weekend. My intention was to jump on board and just go with it, and that was exactly what I did.
I went into this particular weekend with an intention to meet Ayahuasca. Initially, this intention had to do with meeting the experience and the elements of myself it unlocked. But, my ‘open-mind’ began to function more as a disconnection from critical thinking and healthy skepticism than a means to prevent neurosis. By the first night, I was already addressing Ayahuasca as if it were a sentient and separate intelligence existing without my consciousness employed. I wasn’t the only one. I noticed it was a common belief structure amongst the group to address her (Mother Ayahuasca) in this way, as a deity-type figure. It was also common to engage in the rhetoric of “trust and surrender”, to the Ayahuasca, to the emotions rising up and to the guidance of the Curanderos. I wasn’t told to create or participate in these belief structures. I was, however, invited to do so unconsciously through my interactions there and the psychological priming embedded from before I came through people like Graham Hancock.
*** Throughout this article I will talk from a point of secretive hindsight, addressing what was happening in the moment with a not-so-subtle tone of having a larger understanding of it now. But I don’t want to give it all way just yet. Also, I will begin to refer to the experience of the plant consciousness as a variety of terms in line with the rhetoric I was being offered, I will italicize those terms consistently. ***
I bought into this deity-rhetoric in a way that clouded the awareness that I was buying into a rhetoric, into a belief system. I thus allowed this rhetoric to be the primary influence of my experience on the first night. Certainly not a detriment at the time, as I was offered one of the most powerful and meaningful psychedelic experiences of my life, up to that point. Geometric visions, wonderful body sensations, extremely attractive engagement with the icaros (Icaros are special songs which play a strong role in Ayahuasca culture and the facilitation of the experience), an amazingly relieving purge (that means I vomited), a deeply meaningful sense of involvement and community, and a sense of having found home. The ceremony ended and I was left revering the Curanderos as the magical men who brought me to meet Lady Ayahuasca.
The next day I felt fresh and engaged, excited and allured to Lady Ayahuasca, whom I was now affectionately engaging with as “Aya”. I could feel her inside of me; I had interacted with her as another consciousness I had tapped into. It was an amazingly pleasant day, but disconcerting on a deeper level. I had continued to buy in to many elements of the Ayahuasca rhetoric/belief system. I began believing in the concepts of dark entities, protection, and the vital role the Curanderos play in this protection. I even began romanticizing the idea that I could follow this route towards becoming a Curandero myself.
After the first night, I was a wholehearted believer in Ayahuasca: the deity/goddess/profound entity of a realm of ancient spirits and the cosmology surrounding it. She invited me with alluring sensuality and the promise of deepening communion.
From my journal (pardon poor grammar):
“Aya, oh lady you have shown me some potent things last night. In doing so, I can feel your presence within me. I can feel you responding, understanding and guiding me with compassion and understanding. I feel as though I have slipped up in my choices a few times today, and I feel you correcting me with release. Thank you for all of this and the more I have yet to understand just yet. Tonight, I feel mildly familiar but know I have not seen the depth of experience you offer. In humbleness and respect, I ask only to learn you further and in turn learn myself and the dynamic of our developing relationship. I release myself in trust to you and to the guides you have brought me”
***Ok, so I am not gonna rip this journal entry apart with the evil-eye gleam of hindsight, but I could. Also, I talk like this to the Mushroom before each journey with them as well. The difference being that in this journal entry, I believed I was taking to some sentient being that existed without my consciousness employed. Tisk tisk. ***
On the surface level, I was in the dopey stage of puppy love with a mystical entity and her relationship to an ethereal spirit world of angels and demons. Wherein, she was my savior, the Curanderos were my connection to her and all together we could navigate this dark world of vampires and demons within others and myself towards healing and light. (Sound familiar?)
On a deeper, more intuitive or instinctive level, I could sense that something was not right. I was looking around and seeing all these people who continue to come back to these ceremonies but don’t seem any more healed than anyone else I know in life. They have faced the darkest elements of themselves, drank 30+ times, but lack self-confidence or self-esteem. Shouldn’t that be among the first lesson we learn? (Note: I recognize that these thoughts were me projecting expectations onto others, more on this shortly) I had some questions, but I couldn’t form them because I was too busy fluffing up Ayahuasca and the Shipibo tradition in my mind. I was preparing myself to make sweet sensual union with the Mother Ayahuasca once again, even if it meant facing the demons of the spirit world.
But still, on that deeper level, something else was bubbling up and it was about to be the point of reference that pushed me into what is among the darkest, most terrifying experiences of my life. Maybe even THE most terrifying experience I have access to in my memory banks as this time.
Part 2 to follow soon, or buy a hard copy in zine form from James here.