My first experience with ayahuasca began humbly enough, yet taught me a significant lesson which I carry within myself to this day.
A phone call from a friend in a distant, wintered city started my journey. My friend, we’ll call him Sean for the purpose of protecting his identity, told me about the revelatory and healing experience he had as a result of drinking the bitter tasting tea from the Amazon, ayahuasca. It was an experience so profound that he saw the roots of his life long emotional anguish, and was able to begin bringing to the surface the potential for forgiveness, peace and happiness in his life. This situation was not to be taken lightly, as Sean had never really used drugs, let alone psychedelics. I listened intensity and in awe as he described his journey, and excitedly accepted his offer to refer me to the group for the next ceremony, which was less than a month away.
Sean then proceeded to explain more about the ceremony, the time leading up to it, the diet that must be undertaken in order to cleanse your body of toxins as best as possible, and the importance of setting an intention. The intention can be summed up as this: What is it you want to explore within yourself?
We said our goodbyes, and my journey began.
My life at that point in time was made up of experiences, changes and situations which felt overwhelming at the best of times. I had left my wonderful partner, a beautiful and powerful woman I thought I would marry and spend the rest of my life with. I had just completed a masters degree in clean energy engineering, for which I had returned to school in an attempt to fill the void of purpose. I discovered that the business world would only change its ways and care for the planet if:
- It made financial sense.
- Shit hit the fan, and there was no other way forward.
My grandparents on my father’s side had recently died, which left that side of my family infighting for seemingly ridiculous, ego-driven reasons. My grandfather on my mother’s side, a man I had been close with emotionally, was bedridden and destined for a short life. I had suffered a debilitating back injury, forcing me to quit my much-loved martial arts. These are all small in scale compared to the pains and challenges many in the world face, but they were significant for me at the time.
Over the years, I had meditated, and studied various aspects of Buddhism. I had also recently completed the Landmark Forum, a self development course aimed at getting to the roots of our emotional distresses. These types of self work and introspection allowed me, so I thought, to make some marginal gains in my life, my attitude and my response to challenges. But they seemed like they were not getting deep enough, quickly enough. I saw them as powerful tools, yet limited in that they seemed unable to get to the deeper roots of experiences and emotions which tugged at my heart and soul, without taking a decade or two to get there.
About a month later, I found myself in a town far more northern and cold than I had planned on being that winter, in the basement of a nondescript, typical house in a typical looking suburb. There were twelve of us there for the ceremony that first night. Myself, Sean and our third friend Steven –– all young professionals in technical areas. There were also housewives, business owners, a doctor and a lawyer. Three shamans were also present to guide us through the experience. Two had lived and studied with a powerful group of healers in Peru. The third, of Native American descent, worked with traditional tobacco healing and plants of the American desert. They were all aged men, kind and patient with their words. You could tell from their eyes that they had suffered and overcome many adversities, and were here to help guide us all towards our own healing and love.
The setting was –– from what I have seen, read and understood from other ceremony participants –– typical of an ayahuasca ceremony. After making our introductions, we were led to a large, dark, basement room where we laid down our mats and blankets for the evening. Three places, at the center of the room, were held for the three Shamans. These places were surrounded by meaningful artifacts, tobacco pipes, feathers and cups.
Close to an hour after the ceremony began, the bitter taste of hundreds of years of tradition was still strong on my pallet. The healers sang in a mixture of Spanish and incomprehensible guttural, primal sounds, and I lay in the darkness, surrounded by the smell of sage and unadulterated tobacco. I stared at the black, expansive ceiling, unable to detect any shapes except for the dark red glow of the tobacco pipe floating from hand to hand.
A star appeared above, in the infinite darkness of the ceiling. This confused me at first, and I thought it must be an LED light I had not noticed before. “What the fuck is that?” I thought to myself quietly.
Another appeared in my periphery, to the right. Then another to the distant left. With every passing moment, these star-like speckles of light began appearing at random. My breath deepened, and the chanting increased in intensity, seeming to produce stars with every vowel and intonation. This went on for some time, until the sky of the ceiling was littered, like the open expanse of the universe as viewed from the peak of a remote mountaintop.
These stars began to dim and brighten, in rhythm with the pulse of my heart. Or was it a drum? I could not seem to separate the sounds of the chanting and drumming from the feelings I was experiencing within my body.
It was at that point, that intensity of the moment, that I noticed that these lights, these mysterious points were not stars at all, but bright, single letters of the alphabet. That’s right. Letters. Like someone had taken hundreds of scrabble blocks and tossed them into the air.
Each letter began falling, dripping from the sky, moving slowly towards what seemed to be the direction of down. Like a slow drip of melting snow. And a new letter would appear in the original place. I can’t describe with words what I saw, and my simple sketching of stick men would not do anything justice. The closest I have seen, and I think the best description is that of the falling characters and letters in the movie “The Matrix.”
These columns of letters kept falling, and began forming into words: “Business? Love. Car. Enough. Dying. Family. Her.”
They were seemingly distant, yet within arms reach. I could not tell if they were massive letters miles away, or tiny letters on the tip of my nose. The arrangements of words formed into phrases, sentences, statements.
Then I saw them for what they were: The collection of my thoughts. Good. Bad. Critical. Helpful. Judgmental. Mundane. Every thought I had, regularly or randomly, seemed to be painted across the stars.
“Should I start a business? I wish I could find true love. I need to fix the brakes in my car. I am not good enough. Grandpa is dying. I miss my family. I miss her.”
It was as if I saw a visual representation of the noise within my mind. I sat in awe, star gazing, taking in the universe of my creation. The letters shimmered, coming to rest as everything sat in silence. The chanting had stopped, and I knew what peace was.
I reached my hands out. My left hand was cupped, and my right began picking the collections of letters out of the air. I placed them in my left, where they sat. They were cool to the touch, like the northern ocean, or a cold breeze on a winter night. I collected more and more, rolling them into a ball. It was weightless and cool. There was nothing there, yet a strange heaviness pushed on my fingers. When I had collected a few dozen letters from the sky, I examined the ball. Letters moved and gyrated, swimming around one another. Sometimes, a letter would escape the ball and fall to the ground, where it would bounce and come to a rest like a grain of sand.
Instinctively and without reason, I lobbed the ball of words into the air. It rose slowly, coming to rest at the peak for a moment, and returned to my cupped hand. I then lobbed it in the air again, over to my right. Letters spun off into the air, falling to the floor and flying to the sky. I caught the ball of letters and threw it back. I did this playfully, gently and with curiosity over a dozen times, but less than a hundred. I lost track of time.
It was at this moment that I had a realization which would shape my life from that point forward. It was something I had read and intellectualized countless times before, and could recite to others at any point in time:
I control my thoughts.
I control my thoughts.
I control my thoughts.
I control my thoughts.
This left me breathless, and I stopped moving. The silence of that moment was almost overwhelming in its urgency and importance, and I felt an unexplainable shift within my mind.
I contemplated, discussed and wrote about this visualization heavily in the days that followed. It was not the first time in my life I had read this statement, but for some reason it was the most impactful. The Buddha speaks of the monkey mind and meditation as a tool to quiet the noise of the little monkeys within. Eckhart Tolle. Carl Jung. Spiritual bloggers by the hundreds. Gurus and shamans. Ghandi and the priest at the local Catholic Church. They all discuss, point out, and provide tools and exercises with the aim of controlling your thoughts, as opposed to letting them control you. I had read these countless times before, and reviewed them in seemingly deep discussions with friends and strangers over drinks, joints, and in-between dance sessions at all night raves. Yet all these meditations, discussions, intellectualizations, and what I thought was a deep understanding had marginally improved my relationship with my thoughts. I was still a victim of my own thoughts in many ways.
In the years that have since passed, I have been able to look back and say with certitude that this was a defining moment in my life. I know that my previous introspective work, readings and conversations had laid the foundation for me, and for some this is all that is necessary. However, there was something more impactful about this visual and experiential occurrence which drove the meaning deep down and rooted it within me.
For that, and the other lessons I have since experienced, I am eternally grateful to Madre Ayahuasca. She taught me that we can each reach deep down within the stream of consciousness and shape the way it flows.
Jean-Michel Logan is an engineer, writer, and traveler. He is co-authoring a book about Surfing, Spirituality and Neuroscience with his best friend, Aiden Arnold. Please visit their website at: dharmaineverywave.com