From the moment of my birth, I have lived with a fire inside, an innate wildness captured in the essence of myself. I greeted this world with a thick mane of raven hair and eyes which glimmer green in the presence of plants and brown in the muddy sand of Long Island.
The Atlantic Ocean and my older brother prove now to be my oldest and wisest friends. My brother and I discovered life together in the stinging salt of the waves; constantly humbled by the possibility of death that hung in the crest of each hungry break. Always walking away reborn, we were cleansed by the everlasting power of this planet and fulfilled with a fundamental need to experience all of it.
About a year ago, my brother asked me to join him on a trip to Peru. It was a trip to experience ayahuasca and all the vine’s healing promise. He was aware that for the last decade of my life I experienced cyclical depression, heavy self-hatred and the overall suffocation of my spirit. Within this year, the idea of drinking the brew sparked a long journey of internal discovery, which in turn led me around the world. I saw from the deep green in my eyes, it was time for us to go into the world. We needed to be reborn to it, as we always were.
The decision had been made. A one way ticket was bought. I was to build community houses, shovel elephant poo, meet every sea I crossed and roam far and wide throughout South East Asia. I had four months, or so I thought. Five months in I was discovering the power of Lord Shiva in the Nepali Himalayas. Month six I was breathing in cremation ash at a burning ghat in Varanasi, India. Seven Months in I was exercising a 200 year old Sicilian demon from my soul on the floor of the Amazon at the mercy of Mother Ayahuasca.
We found a beautiful ayahuasca center in Iquitos, Peru, one which suited all our needs. It wasn’t long until we were tossed and turned in an old jeep over a deep mud grove. The longer we held on, the deeper into the jungle we ventured. Finally, we arrived in Eden, patiently awaiting the hour of truth. A visceral anticipation sunk into my bones.
The first encounter of the vile sludge that is ayahuasca, seemed condemned by my great suspicion of the unknown. I spent the ceremony feeling like an impostor as I sat nauseous listening to icaros, indigenous enchanted songs created by maestra after centuries upon centuries of ceremonies and plant dietas.
These chants [were] from a land so foreign to my comprehension, I could barely allow the nonsensicalness of it all. Words of the jungle circled me in a wreath and dosed me off to sleep. The ceremony concluded leaving me extremely underwhelmed.
I found my brother on a wooden platform over the lake, his head to the sky. There we stood together, quiet under the artisanal heavens of the Southern hemisphere, silently praising Mother Earth for the miraculous beauty of the Amazon in the wee hours of a summer night. He spoke of sacred geometry, profound revelations, and an experience of eternal love. My brother was inspired; I could see it in his eyes and the words he spoke. He was changed.
Three hours after the ceremony ended, while conversing with an enlightened group over philosophy and humanism, I felt the presence of Mother Ayahuasca swoop over me. My fear of the jungle darkness was combated by the almighty luminance she used to surround me. I became a fish in the Atlantic, swimming towards my family. A fish dancing through the glistening waves reflecting the glow of the sun.
“Stay. Stay as long as you need. You are safe here. You are most certainly where you need to be and your brother will tell your mother that you will be okay. Stay.”
The remainder of the night was filled with compassionate healing, and the opening of my heart. The healing transcended me, focused on my suffering mother and my beloved post-earthquake Nepal. It was a night of inspiration, knowledge, an emotional purging of tears, and a foreshadowed recognition that I was destined to stay longer then I planned.
The ceremony allowed me to feel my primal wildness acknowledged among the wildness of the plant life nurturing me — mind, body, and soul. I felt human.
[As] the second ceremony commenced, the maestro wrapped her icaros around me during my personal healing and I continued, disappointedly, to feel no connection. Underwhelmed again, I found my brother post ceremony having the same reaction.
We sat alone in his tambo and Mother Ayahuasca eventually found us together. She revealed us to one another in a heart wrenching, overly emotional bonding ceremony of our own. We sat on his porch looking out through the trees, talking over the soundtrack of the rainforest, watching the gleam of the moon hit the water, allowing us to slightly make out our sibling and illuminating the skin we were both shedding on this profoundly transformative night.
In this night, talking with my brother till sunrise, we uncovered every laugh, every tear that we had come to experience separate or together. In this night, I was with my first friend, my kindred spirit, discovering life together again, yet as if for the first time.
“I have to take care of our mother.” I told him.
My brother agreed and understood, yet wished I would focus on my own life. In many transparent messages, Ayahuasca showed I couldn’t move onto my life before I healed hers. I would never know the difficulties that lay before me in the coming week. The sun was rising as I finally picked myself up off his porch and walked my naked feet over the floor of the jungle to rest my body in a hammock. Beautiful thoughts came and went, the sun soaking my skin, calming me to slumber.
I spent much of the next day alone releasing unsettled emotions that continued to rise to the surface; emotions surrounding the suffering of my mother. My mother, a nurturing, healthy, positive, beautiful woman, who lived under a cloud of darkness for reasons inexplicable to me, reasons I was soon to find.
There is nothing quite as miraculous, complex, and eternal as the connection between a mother and child. She must be hurting. She must be so sick. I purged in the form of tears and speaking words into the void. I wrote her a letter. I wrote to her to release her, to release myself for the conclusion of my ceremonies to be focused inward.
The next night fall came as the group gathered to their beds preparing for a final dance with The Mother herself. The ceremony started with a full dose… the taste of the vine so deeply rooted in the jungle that it devours your mouth.
I sweat, spit and fade into a vast fog, with memories of smoldering anger and frustration, of times in my life when I was utterly alone, unheard, unfelt, unloved — worthless. My sweat grew more intense alongside my nausea, forcing this deep-seated emotion to rifle to the surface and expunge through me in the form of vomit.
It was a pattern between recognition of suffering and explosion of a purge. I prepared for the framework of my world to crumble. I reentered the maloca and in pure darkness saw the maestro, [who had] the innocence and clarity of a child [and] the wisdom and understanding of an angel.
She was encapsulated in white light and surrounded by butterflies. I transcended to a distant dimension; I was seeing her spirit and I had disoriented freedom that all was pure and absolute. My body [was] now peacefully horizontal.
Ayahuasca scanned my full body X-ray style: Red lines through my veins, blue lines through my bones. She then showed me a box over my solar plexus (core). I became curious about the box when cockroaches, worms, maggots, and all sorts of creatures from the underbelly of our environment appeared. The box opened as the bugs grew closer and closer and all at once infiltrated my system. I felt the retch of darkness seething inside me.
Ayahuasca brought it to my attention as reality. The box slammed shut and the ayahuasca abruptly disappeared. This being a deeply disturbing, esoteric message, I went for a second dose immediately. Sweat persisted and a relentless purge followed, forcing me to run outside and bend myself so far over the railing I was almost burying my head in the Peruvian dirt.
Back inside the maloca, I was horizontal and backwards, face cooling on the floor. I almost slithered to the maestro when I was called for a healing. I craved a connection with her. I comfortably gave her all control, losing my body in her icaros. Losing barriers of society that we feel so actively, with each realization I relaxed my body more and more. Time is not a barrier. I fell deeper. Location is not a barrier. I fell deeper. Money is not a barrier. Deeper, deeper until I was moving my body to the pace of her icaros.
I stretched allowing her healing words to cleanse the destructive force that was inside. At once my body was vibrating at a vascular level, most intense in my hands. As the agony grew, I became aware of a dark shadow, that of a spirit, standing behind me, arms out, seemingly holding my body in his possession. I was frightened as I became physically possessed by this malevolent shadow.
I felt the maestro’s healing power attach to me like an umbilical cord to my core. She became my mother, ready to fight whatever demon came my way. My hands fell into crippling numbness. I could feel an energy boiling inside me, taking absolute control. My hands ceased to belong to me. Before the pain in my hands became too agonizing and the fear of never getting my body back fully settled, I cried to the maestro. “Mis Manos! Mis Manos! Ayudame.” [My hands! My hands! Help me.]
I was keeled over at that point, violently screaming to stop. Tormented to the point I could barely control my breath, the tension released slightly as she stopped her icarus. I could hear my brother call for me in the distance. I could hear the fear in his voice, then a conversation in Spanish. The idea was I had something dark attached to me.
“Muerto cuerpo.” Dead body. Dead body. I started to cry, deeply cry. She spat and blew Agua de Florida all over me, poured it like a faucet over my hands. She blew me with mapacho [sacred tobacco] smoke. I wept aloud as I regretfully admitted to knowing what it was. I was warned. My mother was warned. My grandmother was warned. It all started to make sense why I was here. In an instant, the words lifted from my mouth almost regretfully and more fear induced then anything. “I know what it is.”
During a time of debilitating depression, I was extremely vulnerable when I was approached by a beautiful pregnant woman. From the moment she started speaking she shared insights about myself and my life that I consider very private. As my intrigue grew, I was introduced to her mother, a descendant from South America. Her mother informed me that my family had a certain curse laid upon them.
My mother’s family emigrated from Sicily; a culture with complex intricacies and superstitions. This would inevitably effect the family for nine generations. I was the third generation recipient of this threat to all of the female lineage on my maternal side. This landed on my shoulders and I accepted this evil, eager to rid my family of the malevolence. I used the techniques of the mother and daughter — intense prayer, mantras and meditation. After a few weeks the healers asked for a large sum of money, I chalked it up to being a hoax, laughed about it with my mother and I never thought of this ‘curse’ again.
As I sat with the knowledge and celestial power of ayahuasca running through my body, which was briefly bewitched by some threatening power, I was acutely aware of my plight. I was to stay, test my strength and the maestro’s ability. Silence all around, I retreated inward, back to bed, questioning anything I ‘knew’ about reality, completely disconnected from my bodily form. With this, I understood my purpose — to heal my family. If I don’t fight this darkness, it would inevitably come for everyone I love and that is not an option. It had to get through me first, even if that meant taking me with it.
Erik and I stayed up all night, again softly expressing what our lives meant in that moment, how human we felt amidst the trees and the care of the maestro. The notion of death hung in the air.
Knowing I had to stay and my brother had to leave, I told him, “This thing is going to take me with it. Take me somewhere dark.”
He looked at me with incomprehension but with brotherly love. I pulled out the sheets of paper I had written all over. I read aloud the only legible line. This is when reality set in and my voice started to shake, “I don’t think I ever really understood how to be a part of this world, and now, I’m not.”
My brother guided me at this crucial crossroad in my life. As we separated, I couldn’t begin to imagine what tribulations laid before me, I only knew with my brother’s indestructible protection, I could walk unscathed through the gates of hell.
Dusk came. The maestro acknowledged my fear and asked me to stay fixated only on her icarus, to surrender to her words in every moment of trepidation. Stay centered, be brave, and survive. I repeated this intention over and over until I was called to drink.
A purge came in company with the first icarus. Physically overwhelmed by cramping and stomach pains, I started to feel my body lose strength. I could barely feel half my body as I grasped at the railing for assistance on my way to the bathroom.
At that moment, I was in symbiotic motions with my grandmother and her feeble everyday existence caused by dementia. The atrophy worsened and developed into a form of cancer that stretched over the entirety of my body. My head heavy, barely stable enough to form thoughts. The maestro called, I crawled to her. I concentrated only on her gentle words, echoing in my fragile bones.
Ten minutes [later] the attack started, dry heaves, falling forward, collapsing entirely from weakness. I left my body in a pile of suffering on the floor. Falling into evanescence, I couldn’t lift my head or speak a word. My consciousness left my body and I was petrified it may never return.
The icaros grew heavy with intensity. The maestro was at war, I was at war, and the icaros were jabs in my gut, in my soul. Time passed in that immobile state, I needed to purge, but I still couldn’t lift my head.
Eventually, I awoke from this supernatural coma, hypnotized by the songs of the jungle. The maestro coated me in smoke and I slithered back towards my bed. Convulsions would come again with each healing, with every song, every word. Opening the way for expulsion of the sickness, each word in each song exercising the darkness out of my psyche.
Every personal healing affected me deeply, allowing me to acknowledge the warfare in the room, the warfare that infiltrated the essence of my soul, which panged with deception. Pins and needles, heaviness, paralysis, anger, chest pain, purges, on and on, until the ceremony wrapped at an hour deep in the night.
I laid back listening while the maestro giggled with relief. I praised her as a divine female with the capacity and endurance to protect a space and clean it, even in the heaviness of a soul-thirsty underworld. The sludge that enters her mouth while releasing and cleansing the demonic forces that control us all is nothing but spit to her true maestra.
Heavy rains initiated the final ceremony, the candlelight flickering in the strong Amazonian breeze which lays an ever mysterious blanket of illumination in the silent maloca. I struggle getting the first dose down. The maestro, always the anchor, blessing the ayahuasca beautifully before her dose slides effortlessly down her throat.
The maloca fell into the darkness, but the embers in her pipe brought her face to life and I let my eyes and body adjust to the lack of light by ingesting her luminescent being. The rain continued to pour, and in the relentless heat of the Amazon my body temperature plummeted. Covered in goosebumps and experiencing hypothermic behaviors, my body shivers and teeth chatter. Cuddled into my own body under my blanket, I tried to understand this creative torturous incubus.
Time existed for the duration of the glacial freeze as time tends to do during these ceremonies. In a fog all at once it ceased. I regained body heat and entered back into the temperate world of the Amazonian rains.
Out of some internal desperation for communion within myself, I pushed my limit. The second dose of sludge crept slowly down my throat taking root inside my body, breathing in the medicine, breathing my intention. Dangling my body over the railing outside, its official arrival danced violently inside my body, as the maestro chanted along. It started from the depths of my soul, collecting all insidious debris with it as an effort to continue occupancy.
The nausea started in my stomach, creating a vacuuming suction from deep, entering my throat, restricting my air flow and suffocating me. Like an avenged dark entity, a sound of a thousand blood-thirsty screams from a thousand possessed creatures purging out of my body.
I’m sweating. I’m frustrated. I’m vomiting while a demon stabs my stomach, collapses my chest and weighs heavy on my entire body. He’s making my stomach and ovaries hurt and feel like I need to pee. I lose concentration in the bathroom, holding my head by the door. Vibrating with torture I think of my mother, I think of my grandmother, I think of myself.
I can do this. I can fight this. I get myself up and back to the maloca.
I breathe deeply and try to concentrate. I curl up and listen to the maestro. I let her icarus soothe me. I ignore the spawn of Lucifer making my skin crawl and I connect with the maestro, my Madre del Divino — Mother Earth incarnate.
My love and admiration for her consume me. She has the essence and wisdom far beyond the space where time exists. The maestro, made from the stars built upon the power of Peruvian ancestors. Her words are medicine. I’m not cold anymore, I’m just lost and the only direction I could seem to navigate led me straight to the maestro, to the clarity of her smoke and her healing presence.
I imagine my homecoming. I will grab my family with all of the celebratory force of a stage four cancer patient walking away from their death bed. I lay there on my death bed being pulled, being taken by a spirit of ill intent. All I can see is my family. Grabbing them with all the gentle strength I have physically and wrapping my soul around the parts harder to reach.
I lay as still as my body lets me, heavy internal strikes from my feet to my throat. I am wrestling with myself. I am growing weak while screaming profusely when he knocks me down. He moves to my throat, I am suffocating. I’m blacking out. Hands are around my throat, it’s strangling me. Tighter. Tighter.
I’m in the dark. I slammed my hands on the floor of the maloca. Boom. Boom. Tap out. It’s time for the maestro. The snakes are watching me. The knives in my lower stomach were more prominent. I can’t lose my concentration. The pain is all consuming.
I think of my grandfather. I place my head on the floor and my hand on my stomach. My ovaries pulsing heavily, I thought of the love of his life, my grandmother. I weep with the pain of her unborn son. I feel so deeply her discomfort and the weight of her pain. The raw disappearance of light never to be found again in this world. I use the strength of my grandfather, the strength of his name and I walk into battle. Knowing I have to die for this.
I walk with compassion, I walk with purpose, and I walk with incomprehensible fear to rid myself of this lethal curse.
I make my way down to the maestro.
[She] took a few hits off her healing mapacho pipe and it begins. The sensation alive inside me and gaining more power the more she sang. Restless with violence, I am shaking into an eternal portal where time doesn’t exist. I collapse, my toes, my legs, my stomach, paralysis creeping through my body, in seconds fully possessed. Insidious pangs from my heart, my lungs, my kidney, facing irrevocable damage as I lose myself. I lost her. The icarus dance around my body while jolting me away from the maestro, carrying me far from her protection.
Petrified and howling with horror, disabled, I relinquish all power to the maestro, silently begging for answers as to the cause of my destruction at this, the hour of my death. One foot on the floor, the other in the air, I am purging my deepest ailments balancing between the physical pain and the spiritual catalyst.
“Breathe. It’s almost over.” I’m a pawn in spiritual warfare, and so deep on the other side words no longer have the ability to reach me. Time? Was I being held captive for a month, sixty-thousand years, or an hour? It was all the same. My face making an indent in the floor, I lose sound. I lose location. I lose sight, I lose senses — all of them are gone. Tasting my tears, I surrender to my own death. Face to face with my own mortality, allowing death to move through me, sink into me and finish me, I’m tired.
“It’s tired,” I heard a voice speak. I’m weak. “It’s weak,” the voice, my grandmother, says. I’m dying. “It’s dying.” This demon drained me of every shred of strength, every piece of knowledge, every outlet from which I knew to fight. I was forced to unearth grit from unfathomable depths. I let the voice of my grandmother carry me back on the shoulders of her strength and the essence of the fighter that always lived inside us both, as one, in our blood.
On the verge of ruin, I discovered my tenacity to fight, my choice to fight, my choice to live. I fight the resistance that is trying to demean my family. I expunge myself from the nightmares that plagued my short twenty-five years. I fight because everything is at stake, I discovered this eternal self-love somewhere on this journey and I’ll be dammed if I let anything from any dimension strip me of that love.
I push through, silently struggling, awakening every cell, allowing myself to become the fight, to embrace the primitive female warrior clawing to riot.
Finally, through the over vegetation of the Amazonian jungle in the forty-fifth thousandth year, I feel my body. It hurts, but I can feel it. My heart beats. My heart beats in my chest and I hear it like the gong of a ceremonial practice taking over the whole jungle. My heart. My heart is beating.
Can I breathe? I open my mouth and I take a breath. “Respirar profundo.” [“Breathe deeply.] I’m breathing. The maestro is done. It is gone.
Far past disoriented, I have enough information. Sit up. It might have taken me another thirty-thousand years, but I sat up across from the maestro. She sang to me in her language of the Shipibo people. All I could hear was, “Hallelujah, hallelujah.” My head, not quite strong enough yet to hold up, I was submerged in her words. Then one day she stopped. She wrapped me in smoke and baptized me in Agua de Florida. Shoulders back and head held high, it’s over. I survived.
I lean over the railing, I was still shaking. In between the most deviant dry heaves, no rationalization, no fighting, no resisting. I just cried.
It was a deafening, laborious cry. While hanging my semi-defeated body over the water of the Amazon, begging it to take my tears. It meant something. I lived. My heart beat once again. I was reborn like I knew I needed to be. With every salty tear swooping down my petrified face came transformation from the victim I once was to the warrior I’ve now become. Every moment in my life brought me to these tears. The kind of cry that comes once every sixty-thousand years. The kind of cry that has no language, no sound, no senses, no specific dimension to call home. The kind that isn’t a cry at all, because cry is just a word, insignificant at best.
I felt silence swoop over me, unsure I would ever be able to speak again. The ceremony ended. I needed to regain sensation, to be cleansed, I needed water. Without a word spoken, I jumped in the lake and swam. I submerged my body, stretching my arms, my legs, my toes, my fingers, my heart feeling the chill run through my vessel. I felt the freedom of this physicality, the breath in my lungs. The water of the Amazon soaked through every pore and grounded my body back to the everlasting power of the earth. It clogged me with dirt and mud, welcoming me home, where I always belonged.
I swam under the clouded starry heavens of the Amazon, reborn. I could have swam forever, a part of me somewhere in the cosmos is always there in that moment, swimming, forever. Taking in life after overcoming metaphysical death and the incremental transformation after a profound battle of Satanic devices.
I wrapped my tired body in a towel and sat by the candlelight with a tender loving pup who didn’t need the words that I couldn’t give. Wondering if words would ever come, I grounded my wet body on the Earth. There has never existed an emotion I did not feel in that dark early hour. The first hour of my life.
The true discipline of ayahuasca integrates long after the ceremonies end. I walked away with a gaping hole inside once filled with a demon, a physical representation of fears I harbored deep within. Fear is an insidious virus living in all of us. If you let it, if you don’t actively resist fear, it will sink in deeply, and spread a cancer at the molecular level that will paralyze you. Fear is an illusion, one fails before one tries, one judges before one acts. A true fear of self means you never live; Or you live out your darkest days in the shadow of a suffering family.
I almost let these doubts destroy me. I almost let this visceral hatred quiet me, shrink me, demean my life’s worth. Ayahuasca forced me to live in this hell, to face these demonic anxieties once and for all, so I could empirically know, even when faced with my own death, the demon I have inside will lose to the savage female fighter, every time. I may never be free of fears, but I will never surrender to them either. Ayahuasca bestowed on me the responsibility to restlessly pursue the true capability of the light that shines within.
I persevered with my innate fire still lit, able to warm the suffering of the world, with great compassion and a profound sense of fearlessness. A fire that all the water in the Atlantic couldn’t extinguish, I look at this splendorous world with new empowered eyes, with breath in my lungs, toes curling into the earth, and consistent unwavering love in my heart. I wake to every rising sun with unsurmountable energy and existential lust for the future of this world. Equally grateful to live, as I am to have died.
Edited lightly for typos and clarity, and to remove names of specific people.