Ayahuasca and I: Not your typical trip report – Part 2 – by James W. Jesso
Read part 1 here.
“Unexamined cultural values & limitations of language have made us unwitting prisoners of our own assumptions.”
– Terence McKenna
When it comes to exploring and engaging the psychedelic experience, it has creamed to the top of the research that the three main elements that influence the experience are set, setting and dose. On the second night of what would have been my three consecutive nights of drinking Ayahuasca, my setting was in a log cabin in rural Western Canada with about 25 other people. The people around me were generally present and pleasant, with a prevailing sense of slight anxiety. My personal space was well situated with pillows and blankets for a long night of lying down. The people organizing, facilitating, and even some of those participating, were well experienced and professional. The setting offered to me was certainly above optimal. My set, however, was a different story.
Let’s say I went to a gathering where there was a lot of activity, excitement and involvement. Then, while there, I was moved spontaneously to dance and sing by a force that felt bigger than myself. I would likely come out of that experience saying “Wow, I was really moved to dance and sing by a force that felt bigger than myself”. In the same right, if I were to go into a Baptist church where I was told before hand that the congregation were channeling the Spirit of God through the name of the messiah Jesus Christ and had the same base experience, I would likely come out saying “I was moved by the Spirit of God in the name of Jesus Christ”. The experiences are the same, but the metaphorical wardrobe is different (nice!). The wardrobe we leave wearing will often be similar to the costume we are given on the way in. Unless, something bigger than ourselves calls us to get naked.
Going into my Ayahuasca experience on the second night, I had been frequently interacting with people on the premise of facing personal darkness. I discussed amongst the other attendee’s concepts of finding and navigating the wounds inside of us and processing them at their fullest, through the grace of Ayahuasca (sound familiar?). With the facilitators and the more deeply invested participants, I was engaging the concepts of the spirit world, and the role of the Curanderos to battle the dark entities and protect the group from the impending death of the darkness looming in the unseen world. This is this is the costume I entered with. I had put on the ceremonial wardrobe of the Shipibo culture (metaphorically, and not without cultural appropriation), romanticizing the concept of the Shaman warriors battling the demons of the psychedelic realms (literally)… I got what I dressed for, and more.
***Ok, so a bit more meta-narrative here: As I hope you have already noticed, or you read in part 1, I am narrating this story from the perspective of hindsight, while keeping the lessons learned in it mostly between the lines. I am going to run with this for just a little bit longer and then reveal a fuller perspective. Bear with me.***
The initial moments of the ceremony felt strange and offered three points of reference that would later be the push for my naked exposure. The first was a sense of magic lost in social tension and some logistical hiccups. Nothing major or unprofessional, just slightly uncomfortable. Things like communicating details about the washrooms and noise. Further more, the apprentice Curandero offered the opening talk to the people in the room who were experiencing Ayahuasca for the first time, and that was a bit awkward to. It wasn’t really his fault, the apprentice’s relatability as just a normal guy doing his thing in the world without a mysterious South American accent and a deep foreboding tone of mystery was unavoidable and offered a disconnect form the idolization of his role unconsciously created by the group. The humble humanness in this, slightly broke the romantic spell of “SHAMAN” that costumed throughout the room. (Even though none of the Curanderos used the term “shaman” or prefer it, we tend to make gods of men who do things we don’t understand. Keep that in mind.)
The second point of reference was during the first serving of the Ayahuasca. The woman to my right, who was the first to drink, immediately, she spit it back up into the cup. This brought a sense “WTF?” to everyone who saw it go down, including the Curanderos. She claimed it tasted weird and I began to wonder, “How do we know if it’s safe? I don’t really know anything about the pharmacology of this brew’s MAOi content except that it could be unsafe. How do they know it’s safe? They drink last. Is it the same from last night?” But, “trust and surrender”, right? I let it go as the woman took her drink anyways, the glass was rinsed and then it was my turn.
On the first night, I had a wild experience, and only drank about half a glass. After having brought up to the Curanderos that I wanted to more fully explore what this medicine has to offer, there was a sense of permission exchanged between us when he offered me a ¾ full glass. With a nervous anxiety bred of excitement, anticipation and fear, I drank it down and let its electric flavor ripple through me. I returned to my mat only long enough to get my headlamp and make a quick trip to the washroom before I was unable to stand properly.
Returning from the washroom, I took witness to the third point of spell break. I noticed the two bottles the Curanderos had. I began to wonder why it was that they drank last, and when they drank, it was from a different bottle than the rest of us. What was different? Now, looking at this in hindsight, it likely has something to do with some type of tradition, the brew for the facilitators being stronger or containing some extra plants or something. It doesn’t really matter what their intention was, as I can tell now that the people involved here are good people with loving intentions at their core. The point of my stark questioning was that it worked as the external referencing points for breaking a spell I had placed on myself. More than a legitimate set of reasons to question these people, my suspicion was an internal point of reference to explore my intentions, investments and agreements. The suspicion against these men and their intentions in the moment was merely a projection of issues I was having with myself at a psychodynamic level. In fact, all of this so far was me; my engagement with Ayahuasca the deity, my blind acceptance of a religious cosmology of the jungle, all the romance and all the impending terror, it was all mine, and I was about to be stripped naked of it.
Keep in mind that an awareness of the psychodynamic nature of all this was only understood in hindsight and the projection of blame and malevolence for all of it being ripped away is going to continue for sometime to come.
Part 3 to follow soon, or buy a hard copy in zine form from James here.