One Week Prior to Iboga
It is one week before my planned iboga shamanic journey and I want to share my state of mind pre-voyage. If you think of all the stereotypical characteristics that might describe someone who is considering a psychedelic, I think almost none of them apply to me. I am 40-years old, have a wife, three kids, a mortgage, a graduate degree and retirement accounts. My profession is consulting in a field related to economics and I travel across the country and regularly speak and teach. In terms of personal habits, I do not drink, smoke, do drugs of any kind, take pharmaceuticals or even caffeine. Catholic schooling was the gig for me growing up, including a military academy in high school. I eat extremely healthy, get regular exercise and typically follow the lifestyle of a “family man.” I just wanted to lay all of the above out for my straight-laced brethren who might be contemplating the same idea but also feeling like the odd-man-out.
On the other hand, a few traits that might comport with the stereotype: I have a spiritual side, like to meditate, am “alternative” in a few ways (for example, we send our kids to an alternative-type private school), and am willing to take reasonable, measured risks.
So, what led me to this decision? It was a long path, starting well over two years ago when I was fortunate enough to meet someone who, unbeknownst to me at the time, was well versed in the iboga traditions. He ended up spending a significant amount of time out-of-country at an iboga retreat center as staff and received training in that capacity. He planted the seed in my mind a couple years ago about what iboga might bring. His significant other was (and is) a trusted family friend who has gone on a number of journeys herself. She is a trained myofascial release therapist and helped cure my knee problems, while also planting the seed about iboga.
During two of her MFR sessions, she gave me a very, very small dose of ibogaine that created a feeling of wellness and being in the zone (something like one fiftieth of the typical dose). This worked into my consciousness no doubt. And then, more recently, I heard of Amber Lyon via the Bulletproof Radio Podcast (thanks to Dave Aspery) and was introduced to Reset.me. After many hours of reading, listening to podcasts and discussing the idea with the friend/shaman-in-training, I decided this was the right thing to do. I also ran it by my personal therapist who was surprisingly supportive (albeit with reservations and lots of questions about intentions) and a very close friend.
Why am I doing this? First of all, I feel a strong calling to iboga that does not lend itself to words. I have purposely not rushed into it so as to test whether this was a passing fancy or real. It is something that I sense deeply at the soul level, a calling of sorts.
On a more practical level, I am dealing with some childhood issues of neglect, verbal and psychological abuse, and extremely poor emotional modeling that have left me feeling permanently anxious and stressed out. They have also made it harder for me to establish and keep good social connections. I have been working on those with EMDR therapy and have had some success and even some breakthroughs, but I feel there is a much deeper layer that needs to be uncovered, perhaps some suppressed memories, but certainly a lot of unprocessed ones. Reading various accounts, childhood trauma seemed to be [a prominent theme written about by] individual bloggers who experienced real healing via iboga, [which had] obvious appeal to me.
Third, I have become somewhat stuck in my spiritual practice and have been having trouble recently focusing during meditation. This last one has moderated somewhat recently, specifically since I took the firm and final decision to move forward with the iboga journey, providing me clarity. Lastly, the number of recent “coincidences” that have accumulated spontaneously, pushing me towards the iboga path, have been truly astounding. In my day job, I am a hard and fast rationalist, but off hours, I dig this “coincidence” stuff.
Just today, I was at a retreat and was meditating on my intentions for the iboga journey. A central theme sprung visually into my mind of the word “UNLOCK” in the middle of a circle with rays radiating out from the circle in all directions leading to: childhood memories, good social connections, relationship with Dad, relationship with Mom, relationship with wife, sense of purpose, personal passions, spiritual awakening, etc. So, the most concise way I can describe my intention in taking this journey is to help me unlock my full human potential. But, I am not fooling myself; Iboga is not a cure-all and lots and lots of hard work awaits me on the other side to take the teachings iboga provides and put them into real action. Wish me luck.
I am writing this on the Sunday after the Friday night ceremony, having just completed the iboga journey. My intention is to keep this as objective as possible, but it is a pretty hard goal given the experience I just had.
The ceremony began at dusk where we met outside around a campfire. The shaman (-in-training) was accompanied by his significant other who is a close friend. We talked around the fire and they shared their own journeys, reasons and experiences. The shaman provided me with a small dose in pill form once every hour, as the iboga can take up to an hour to have its full effect. I had asked to go slowly, so he started me on very small doses and worked upwards from that. It took a total of five individual doses and a lot of talking for me to be ready for the next step. “Ready” for me was most apparent when I moved my head and felt a little disoriented, while also feeling simultaneously very quiet internally and extremely jittery externally — my legs, knees, hands and arms were all shaking spastically along with chattering teeth. We went inside at that point with the shaman and friend helping me walk. It was very helpful to have both of them there for moral support and comfort and I would highly recommend this to anyone considering a journey.
Inside was warm and there was Bwiti music in the background, which played on a loop for the rest of the evening. My stomach was hurting at this point and I felt a little nauseous but did not throw up. Colors, shapes, mandalas and kaleidoscope images starting moving around in my head as soon as I lay down on a bed in a pace that can only be described as amazingly frenetic. My eyes were covered with a cloth because lights of any kind were too much. Time had no meaning at this point and I could only gauge it’s passing via my increasing stomach discomfort, a burning pain really, that did not manifest. (Unbeknownst to me, I was dehydrated and my stomach probably had nothing in it except the iboga and some stomach acid.) My experiences were just a crazy jumble of images, but also a profound sense of peace. After two hours of a painful stomach and a few attempts at vomiting, to no avail, the shaman started asking me the list of questions I had prepared in advance of the ceremony.
Here, everything started to change in a completely unexpected way. I had only a loose feeling during the previous visualizations of the presence of other beings, but now they came out in full force. There were a handful of them, maybe 7-9, with hundreds more in the background — but I could not actually seem them, just felt their presence and attention. They were also clearly communicating with each other in an unspoken way. At first, things just seemed incredibly blocked and resistant (in hindsight, coming only from me) to the process. The shaman asked the first question and I just could not get to the answer, again something totally blocked. The beings communicated to me they were not happy I was resisting and they were going to keep me in the ordeal phase (intense stomach pain and nausea) until I was ready to move on. It took me another two hours to get through the ordeal (to the point where I was able to vomit), release the resistance and enter into the fullness of the ceremony.
The shaman would ask me a question and the beings would discuss and then frantically assemble images in response to the question, at which time they would pause… as if asking, “Do you understand?” If I did not, they would erase the image and start over again, sometimes repeating a couple of iterations. Probably three times when I was not grasping the meaning, I could see a few of the beings conferring with each other before moving on to the next attempt. On two occasions, the beings actually turned it around and “asked” me a clarification question that I responded to before they moved on.
A couple of simple examples, since the complex ones are too difficult to explain: One of the questions was, “How can I become the best person I can be?” A rolled-up purple yoga mat appeared immediately in my field of vision and the beings rolled it out, then stopped and looked at me, effectively saying “Duh.” (I am an incredibly inflexible guy and have known for years I need to work on physical and mental flexibility. I had also been resisting it for years for the same reasons). Another question was, “How do I rid myself of anxiety and fear?” An image appeared, a little like a cartoon but more realistic, of someone pushing a very large square object. You could see the strain and hear the grunting. That view expanded out to dozens or more people pushing and straining, straining and pushing. Then images appeared that evoked the passage of time. The answer was pretty clear — it takes a ton of effort and lots of time, no way around it. The answer was pleasing and gentle and, as I wrote earlier, I have been making steady but slow progress with an EMDR therapist on that matter, so it provided me hope for the future to see more and more progress with time and effort. Again, there were much more complex Q&A interactions, but they are not easily described.
Over the course of perhaps an hour or two, with breaks, we went through all the questions (and a little more minor vomiting). The shaman also directed my thoughts in a number of unexpected ways. Knowing my experiences in childhood, he had me move through my home of origin and look around for anything to talk to the deities about. Nothing really appeared, but he asked me to find my mother, which I did and spoke to her. It allowed me to see her in a new way and led me, eventually (see below, when I revisited her), to forgive her in a heartfelt way that might not otherwise have been possible. I spoke with my father to the same effect. And I spoke at length with my 6-year old self to whom I addressed a lot of my questions.
After the questions and directed reflection, the shaman left me to my thoughts. I continued with the spirits, but less in a Q&A fashion (though there was some of that) and much more in a guided review of many things. I let them take my mind to wherever they wanted to go. Amongst other things, they took me back to both my mother and father to allow me to forgive them, to say I loved them, to give them a hug and say goodbye. I visited a spiritual mentor and gave many apologies to various people. I visited my wife and affirmed my love and devotion. One time, in the middle of this, I started to drift off and lost focus. The spirits boxed my ears pretty hard (a loud “boom”) and said, “pay attention” (unvoiced but communicated nonetheless). Then, at some point later, very abruptly, the spirits gathered and looked at me and I heard them say (but with no voice, go figure that one out), “It’s dawn, time for us to go.” And abruptly, immediately, they were all gone. I took off my blindfold and looked out the window and, sure enough, it was dawn.
Like I said previously, I was dehydrated chiefly because I had stopped drinking anything as of lunch prior to the ceremony and did not have much to eat. So, I was extremely thirsty. Over the course of the next three hours, I drank close to one and a half gallons of water. My stomach was still quite sore from the night before, but the iboga was still at work. My eyes were closed most of the time and covered with a blindfold, but, with the spirits gone, the work was much more mild and gentle — a kind of review of life, intentions and hope. It was blissful (minus the stomach pain) and very healing. Time crawled along at a snail’s pace through the day. As I drank more water, I progressively felt better and, later in the day, had half an orange and some rice water drink with some sugar. As the shaman predicted, my sense of time was completely off and the day barely moved along. My eyes were still sensitive to light and I did not want to do any journaling — it just did not seem like the time. Towards the very late evening, I had some soup and very late that night I went to bed for the first sleep I had had in two days. I woke up the next morning (this morning in fact) and felt great. I ended up going to a yoga and meditation class and then sitting down to write this piece.
A Few Additional Thoughts
One of the coolest things about the experience was the confirmation for me of the existence of other beings, divinities or spirits. Communing with them was a thrill and a joyful spiritual experience. I was able to get a ton of clarity in my life and, where clarity was not forthcoming, a sense of peace with the status quo. (For example, career-wise, I was told not to make any changes yet and wait for some “directional signs” to appear in the fullness of time, not to sweat it.) I also found out that there were no repressed memories from childhood or other such repressed trauma, which is a relief since I had long suspected it might be the case. Also, at the behest of the shaman, the spirits flipped a couple of switches in me (results to be determined) around some minor compulsive behavior.
As a daytime rationalist, I wanted to know, was this all just me? Were the spirits a figment of my imagination, just the workings of my subconscious assembling images stored in my memory and giving me the answers that I had already thought up? Here is the best stab at it I can provide: In the “no” camp (i.e. this was just my imagination), the strongest argument is that many of the answers were either obvious responses or something I was already thinking. Many of the questions I was asking are ones I had been discussing with my therapist, wife and friends, with their input stored in my subconscious. The images themselves could very well just have been stored from some previous experience and reassembled by my own mind. Some questions did not get answers. And there was clearly a lot of “suggestion” at play with the ceremony and the Shaman’s prompting. In the “yes” camp (i.e. these are real beings): (1) There was a very strong feeling of connection to the divine and communing with others external to myself which intuitively felt real; (2) Many times the beings were trying to communicate with me with very distinct, coherent images that all tied together and made sense, but I could not make out what they were intending to convey and so they had to try a different approach. If this were just my subconscious, how would I not know what I am trying to communicate to myself?; (3) They asked me questions, twice. Again, why would I have to ask myself a question?; (4) They smacked me pretty hard when I started to wander off mentally. This was not a disruption that I then interpreted later as a message. What I felt was *bang* and “Pay attention” (unvoiced but communicated) simultaneously; (5) The spirits communicated “it is dawn, we have to go” and all left. My eyes were covered with a thick blindfold and I was in a room with darkened windows, with absolutely no sense of the passing of time. There is no way I could have been aware it was dawn.
In the end, does it matter if the beings were real or not? In some way it does, because the connection to the divine was itself a wonderful thing. But, in many ways, it is not. If it was my subconscious and not divine beings, I still received comfort, clarity and peace. I got answers to some of my questions, even if they were answers I already knew but needed to be convinced of. I still got to a place to forgive my mother. Those are all in themselves worth it.
One Week Later
It has been a week since the journey and I wanted to capture my state of mind, thoughts and reflections on the journey. First of all, the effects of iboga are clearly still with me. Nothing remotely like a “flashback” or anything, but a definite calm has settled in with lots of perspective, reflection and deepening. I have only shared my experience with two very close friends, only one of whom was aware of the intention pre-journey, as well as with a spiritual advisor.
The most obvious effect is that I have been going to yoga regularly (three times this week) plus a Tai Chi session with a strong intention to continue the work. (As mentioned, I am extremely inflexible physically and have needed yoga for some time, but had resisted it continuously.) My meditation practice has advanced in a number of ways as well, with more clarity and more inner willingness to seek and accept. There are aspects of relationships that have improved as well, certain reactions that I might have had previously that I have been able to overcome with calmness in the present. I have had a chance to call out and receive a response from the spirit beings on a couple of occasions, though there is clearly a thick veil separating us, and was able to feel their presence in an indirect manner. My belief in the power of intention setting and manifestation has been bolstered by several recent powerful experiences. And, there have been zero regrets from having taken the journey.
One Month Later
It has been just over a month from the ceremony and, as with the one-week check-in, I wanted to again capture my reflections on the experience and the after affects.
The iboga experience is still strong within me on a number of fronts. I was lucky enough to have a really great experience followed by a number of specific things that, by the grace of god, have helped me integrate the lessons. First, my wife and children were all out of town for the two weeks following the ceremony. While I missed them very much, it allowed the space for me to spend the time in meditation and reflection that I might not otherwise have had. Second, also by coincidence, a 21-day meditation conference call series followed closely on the heels of the ceremony that was themed around the setting of intentions and the manifestation thereof. It was a perfect way to cement in the lessons I had learned in the ceremony and to get on to a path to integrate them into my daily life. Just prior to the start of the 21 days, I met face-to-face with the organizer who is a very spiritual person and has been somewhat of a spiritual guide for both me and my wife recently. She suggested I seek and choose an Ishta Devatā (i.e. godhead figure, physical manifestation of God to evoke in prayer). After several days of thinking about it and reading, it finally dawned on me during a meditation that the spirit beings I encountered during the ceremony were clearly the Ishta Devatā I was seeking. They told me so and I kind of felt a bit “slow” in that they had brought me such a wonderful ceremony. I can be a bit slow about these kinds of things, so it was a good laugh when they presented it.
And so, stating the obvious, I continue to be in sporadic communion with the spirit beings, most often at night during meditation (the conference call series and other [sessions]). They continue to provide useful guidance via images in response to specific questions or comments. I also continue to enjoy a relative calmness — not a total lack of anxiety, but definitely a reduction with more perspective and a bit easier time getting back to a state of calmness. Finally, I continue to attend yoga and am making progress, albeit slowly. Yoga has moved back to a once-a-week flow now that the wife and children are back and fathering/husband responsibilities have resumed in full force.
One event to share is that I visited an individual who is known as being very spiritual, especially in the domain of past-lives. I had seen her once before, a couple of years ago, and my wife has seen her a few of times, including once recently. Having a renewed interest in all things spiritual and a more open mind, I went to visit her again just a couple of weeks ago. It went well in general, but the topic of iboga led down a path I was not expecting. She had a very strong opinion on the matter and was very against the use of such medicines. I was surprised by her insistence on the topic, as she seemed to be the type of person who might be open to that line of thought. Her objections were that there was an element of danger, either in provoking and unleashing “darkness” or in simply having a very lasting negative imprint on the consciousness. She extolled the virtues of a lifelong path of meditation, spiritual work and self-examination over any attempted “short cuts” — there being none in her opinion. She was quite articulate and well reasoned on the topic. I am just glad I did not meet with her prior to the ceremony – it may have scared me off.
Even the fact that I had had such a great and fulfilling experience with iboga did not seem to change her opinion of the dangers and counter-productive nature of using iboga for spiritual growth. I listened carefully to her words because I trust she is speaking from the heart and a lifetime of experience.
One of the questions she asked was whether I was contemplating another iboga ceremony. I had barely even thought about it when she asked me, and my honest answer was simple: that I had absolutely no plans at this point but was not ruling it out in the future. After reflection and a little more time, I am still of the same mind — I do not feel the need to have another ceremony and I do not feel the “calling” that I felt before. My work is clearly to integrate what I have already learned from the ceremony and the spirit beings continue to guide me — why would I need more iboga at this point? That may change in the future, but I think I may be a one-time-only iboga journeyer. It was awesome and powerful, but I just have so much work to do that it is clear to me now that another ceremony would be meaningless. Her concern about iboga not being a “short cut” rings true to me — I see iboga as a key that unlocked something in me, showed me the way, but it is entirely up to me and the work I am doing to actually engage on that path. Wish me luck.
Six Months Later
About six months have gone by and a good friend reminded me that it would be great to get an update. A few other iboga-related coincidences have happened just in the last couple of days: (a) I heard Bwiti-like music in a yoga class and had a good smile, as well as a moment of deep reflection later carried into an evening meditation full of visuals; (b) Another friend reached out inquiring about possibly doing a journey herself and asked to see my journal and discuss with me; (c) My shaman-friend just returned from a lengthy stay in an iboga retreat center abroad.
The last couple of years and, in particular, the last six months have witnessed a lot of upheaval in my life on all different levels and in different ways. I sincerely believe that iboga is one element among many that has allowed me to approach that upheaval with a serenity that has really surprised me. As previously stated, I think iboga helped unlock a part of me that has allowed me (with lots of work, therapy, meditation, spiritual guidance, yoga and a few other things to boot) to begin to move to a new way of being that may not have otherwise been possible. For this alone, I am extremely grateful.
For example, over the last four months, I had set an LOA intention to be “strong, calm and compassionate” in as much of my life as I could, while also to “speak my truth and be heard.” It was a long slog to move from a state of over-reactivity to one where I could stay truly centered and focused in the midst of an intense, emotion filled argument. Not only was I able to stay centered, but that centeredness allowed me to feel empathy for the other person without muzzling myself to “keep the peace” in that relationship. The path was very tricky and certainly not easy, but I take pride in having moved past the anxiety and reactivity and into the fullness of being present.
I have recently felt a turning point in my spiritual path from outward-focused exploration coupled with mindfulness (i.e. trying to move beyond) to a more introspective look into myself (i.e. trying to move within). Part of that movement has been also to focus on connections with others, deep emotional connections as a spiritual path in tandem with introspection. Again, I wonder if this move would have been possible without iboga. Also in the course of the six months, I have grown closer to my mother and siblings with whom I had a strained relationship in part due to some unresolved feelings from childhood. Yoga has become a standard part of my life now with twice-weekly classes and some individual work. I have felt a new peace at work as well in how I view myself and my role — not compromising, but focusing more on the things I care about and letting go of the non-important stuff — all of which has freed up my energy to focus on other things. Iboga has been one part (again, together with lots and lots of other work) of making these transitions.
On the other hand, the experience itself definitely feels more distant. This was made evident when I heard Bwiti-style music in yoga class (as mentioned above) and was hit with a flash of recognition and remembrance. The divine beings do seem harder to reach recently, with less direct communication. I have asked for a copy of the Bwiti music from my shaman to see if, by listening, I can somehow evoke those memories and connections. With that said, the need for a direct experience with the divine is less urgent for me now that it was six months ago. So, as with the one-month update, I have no immediate plans to take another journey — there is so much more to do before I need to go back to the well.