A Soundscape by David P. Crews
[Total run time: 1:17:00]
Ayahuasca–Rain Passage is a visionary sound experience by award-winning musician David Crews, centered on a recording made on his second venture into the Peruvian Upper Amazon to work with the most renowned and respected whole-plant spirit medicine in the world, called ayahuasca–the Vine of the Soul. A jungle rainstorm arrived to guide the ayahuasca ceremony with the energy of Yacumama, the Water Spirit of the rivers and forest, bringing power and depth to the intense visions received from Madre Ayahuasca herself.
About the Music:
“This is a minimalist and immersive ambient soundscape. I designed this to be a deliberately slow and long work to suggest to the listener the mental and spiritual space one enters when working with ayahuasca in traditional ancient nighttime ceremony (which normally lasts from four to six hours). It is based on a 24 bit digital recording, made on location, of the natural sounds environment at SpiritQuest Sanctuary on the Rio Momón, a tributary of the Amazon. It includes the evening chorus of animals and insects, a large tropical downpour, and the post-rain night chorus. This is blended with the spirit songs of the shaman and my original deep electronic music ambient elements.
“Ayahuasca is best encountered when one is surrounded by and embedded into the vast living being that is the Amazon forest. My intention was to make a long-form piece centered on that rainstorm that, while containing creative electronic musical elements, remains an experiential ambient work. Great care has been taken to blend and guide the slowly evolving moods. In ayahuasca, each participant’s specific visions are unique, so I have presented a kind of impressionistic portrayal of the vision experience, very much centered in the entraining of the mind by the rhythms and white noise of the traditional songs, the leaf rattles, and the rain. At 1 hour, 17 minutes in length, this contiguous piece is best listened to in one sitting, when one is ready for an immersive meditational and transforming experience. It also works well as a low-volume truly ambient environment.
“The icaros (spirit songs) heard in this work were also recorded on location, during actual ceremony. They are the songs of don Rober Jarama, the highly esteemed banco ayahuascuero shaman associated with SpiritQuest. I have worked with don Rober over a seven-year period. He is completely authentic and simply amazing in his dedication to traditional mestizo and tribal shamanism in the Amazon. You will hear him whistle his opening Arcana to place spiritual protection on the participants, and also some of his sung icaros that help guide the ceremony throughout the night. Also prominent are the rhythmic sounds of the schacapa, a dry-leaf rattle that helps entrain the mind as the visions progress.
“The musical elements were created with LogicPro X on a Macintosh system and include timbres created in Alchemy, Air Xpand!2, ESX-24, EWQL Symphony samples, and other instruments and modules. Performance, production, and mastering completed at JaguarFeather Studios, Austin, Texas.
“My thanks and love to maestros don Rober Jarama and don Howard Lawler, and the staff and friends of SpiritQuest in Peru.
“I hope you find this journey into the incomparable vision space of ayahuasca to be useful, sublime, and amazing. Blessings and Light!”
-David P. Crews
“A prophet is not without honor except in his own country. . .”
An observation about reintegration and sharing one’s non-ordinary experiences for good or for ill.
Anyone who has worked authentically with Ayahuasca, gaining sight and knowledge, healing and wisdom, is partaking in the mythic Hero’s Journey. He or she is a legitimate explorer–one who travels to dangerous places, passing barrier guardians, personally encountering the divine Spirit or Spirits, and willingly undergoing tests and challenges that are often terrifying and that threaten survival. When the exploration ends, we who have so ventured return to our mundane world once again, full and overflowing with what has been taken in and we are electrically charged with it. It is a boon for ourselves (this is why we took on the challenge). We wish it to be one for our friends, our family, our tribe: those who did not and would not ever cross the border we crossed; those who would or could not face the challenges and return with the great wealth.
One of the most challenging parts of the Hero’s Journey then, is the return: the reintegration into the “normal” everyday world and trying to fulfill our role as conveyors of the treasures we found and the discoveries we made during our dangerous endeavor. It does not always work, this re-entry into our old world and it can redound to our discomfiture in our relationships with others. Joseph Campbell put it this way:
“[Prior to the Hero’s return from] the mystic realm into the land of common day. Whether rescued from without, driven from within, or gently carried along by the guiding divinities, he has yet to re-enter with his boon the long-forgotten atmosphere where men who are fractions imagine themselves to be complete. He has yet to confront society with his ego-shattering, life-redeeming elixir, and take the return blow of reasonable queries, hard resentment, and good people at a loss to comprehend. . . .
. . . As dreams that were momentous by night may seem simply silly in the light of day, so the poet and prophet can discover themselves playing the idiot before a jury of sober eyes.
. . . How to render back into light-world language the speech-defying pronouncements of the dark? How represent on a two-dimensional surface a three-dimensional form, or in a three-dimensional image a multi-dimensional meaning? How translate into terms of ‘yes’ and ‘no’ revelations that shatter into meaninglessness every attempt to define the pairs of opposites? How communicate to people who insist on the exclusive evidence of their senses the message of the all-generating void?”
This, Campbell says, is “the hero’s ultimate difficult task.”
–Joseph Campbell “The Hero with a Thousand Faces” (New Jersey, Princeton University Press, 1949–Second Edition, 1968), pp 216-218.
After my first, most powerful and transformative foray into the realms of the Other, I naively presented my journey’s logs and observations to those who are close to me. The reaction was something like that one described by Campbell–the semantic and ontological challenges the very same as he outlined. Sometimes, I wonder if I should have done it, for he also wrote of the hero who might be tempted to “commit the whole community to the devil and retire again into the heavenly rock-dwelling, close the door, and make it fast. But if (an obstruction to his retreat has been placed), then the work of representing eternity in time, and perceiving in time eternity, cannot be avoided.”
[ibid, p. 218]
And, so I continue to share what I have experienced. I do so in diverse ways, including (especially) in this blog.
Excellent video podcast with Amber Lyon of reset.me, in an engaging and fascinating interview with my dear friend and shaman maestro of the Amazon, don Howard Lawler, aka. Choque Chinchay. This is a wonderfully long in-depth discussion about Ayahuasca–what it is and isn’t and how it is properly (and improperly) approached and worked with in its native Amazon setting. Howard is a superb teacher as well as shaman and it is always a blessing to listen to his knowledge and wisdom about the great teacher plants, especially Ayahuasca. This was shot on location at the SpiritQuest Sanctuary in the Upper Amazon where I’ve twice been fortunate to travel and to engage with the great plant teachers under the care and compassion of don Howard and don Rober.
I’ve spent many hours listening to don Howard, asking my questions and having in-depth discussions about the medicine. When you listen to him, you are hearing long and deep experience from one of the most authentic of the Amazon’s medicine men, and probably the best communicator in English for and about Ayahuasca. Enjoy.
One of the most interesting writers about Ayahuasca is the featured author on Graham Hancock’s website this month. Rak Razam’s article on the “State of the Vine” is an interesting overview of how the great plant medicine is viewed, used, and evolving into our modern cultures. Rak wrote two excellent books on Ayahuasca: “Aya Awakenings: A Shamanic Odyssey” and “The Ayahuasca Sessions” (www.ayathebook.com) and continues to verbalize many views and overviews of the medicine, giving perspectives that are sometimes lost in the tangle of the vine as it is being used and sometimes abused today.
I was particularly struck by this excerpt about the reason many Westerners have decided to approach and work with Ayahuasca. I am one of these seekers, coming as I did to it at the same time Rak did in 2006:
“So when tens of thousands of Westerners started coming in search of ayahuasca–the vast majority with no obvious ailments–the curanderos soon realized there was still a sickness: this one of the soul, a spiritual malaise where people talked of being disconnected from nature, from the whole idea of spirit and spirituality, in any tangible way. That is why the came seeking visions, wanting to see spirits and validate the spiritual world that has long been disconnected from the West. They were filling a burning ache within them for re-connection, which is, of course, what religion means in the original Latin.”
If you have read my series on my original encounter with Ayahuasca, you know that this describes my reasons and approach to the medicine quite well. It also describes my actual experience in re-connecting with the Spirit of life itself. Working with Madre Ayahuasca led to the first and so far only event in my life that I can unflinchingly call a “religious experience.” One that was all the more mind and eye-opening for having had nothing at all to do with the religion of my first forty years on this planet, and everything to do with the life of this planet itself.
“These are still early days, and for all the teething issues that hit the headlines, a great archaic revival is underway, an understanding of the true nature of our reality and what we are embedded in. This is the true beauty of ayahuasca, and the invitation to become part of this movement is there as the vine reaches out to embrace the world.”
Her spirit infuses my life continually, as I am certain it does for most who encounter Ayahuasca with a good heart and honest intentions for visionary healing and enlightenment, whether that healing be physical, emotional, or spiritual.
Bless me, O beautiful Earth.
Bless me, O beautiful Earth.
For I have come forth from You,
And, I return again to You.
Bless me, O beautiful Earth.
Bless me through my feet.
Bless me through my legs.
Bless me through my body.
Bless me through my arms.
Bless me through my hands.
Bless me through my face.
Give me your blessing
As I gaze at your beauty.
I return your blessing
With every movement and
Every sacred Word.
I am filled up with You.
Bless me, O beautiful Earth.
I am your Child.
I am Earth.
[Click any image for a larger view.]
I’ve been on a bit of a ‘blogcation’ lately, but one of the things I’ve been working on is a PHOTO GALLERY of my recent trip to the Peruvian Amazon to work with Ayahuasca. This was my second trip to work at the SpiritQuest Shamanic Sanctuary, where I engaged with the great spirit medicine in five intense ceremonies. This photo tour will take you with me, showing the sanctuary, the verdant grounds and jungle, the process of preparation of the medicine, the actual ceremonies, visiting with some of the local tribespeople (Yahua, Bora, and Shipibo), and a special ceremony to work with Huachuma.
See my previous posts on this trip for more detailed information about these events. There is general commentary provided with these photos, but as this gallery is intended for a broader audience, it does not present the in-depth detail you’ll find here on my blog. There are a lot of photos in the show, and I do hope you enjoy them. I have some video and audio elements I will share later.
My final ceremony in the Amazon was not with Ayahuasca, but with the ancient medicine of the Chavin culture of the northeastern mountains and coastal areas of Peru. Huachuma is the most common local name for the plant whose post-colonial name is the San Pedro cactus. As both cacti contain mescaline, Huachuma can be considered South America’s parallel, if decidedly not equivalent, to North America’s peyote. Just as with peyote, this cactus has been used for thousands of years to bring humans into a powerful spiritual dimensional experience for healing and for enlightenment.
The ritual and ceremonial forms associated with Huachuma are based on the mesa, a literal table or layout of ceremonial power objects in the form of a cross. Much of this has been co-opted by the Catholic church and most “San Pedro Mesa” ceremonies are very syncretic and include objects, references, and appeals to Jesus, Mary, the saints, etc. My interest was to find the older, more authentic, pre-Columbian version of the cactus ceremonies, representing true ancient shamanism. In today’s Amazonian or Andean cultures, this is not easily found, but Howard Lawler is, surely, the best source for this kind of experience. He has been restoring this ancient style and level of Huachuma ritual for decades, and has been able to attain and establish a truly non-syncretic and very powerful mesa ceremony. His Huachuma Mesada Pilgrimages are intense, nearly two-week long expeditions to the ancient sacred sites in northeastern Peru to engage with the plant in the way and in the very places that the ancients did.
He also offers an introductory mesa ceremony in the Amazon for those, like myself, who are there to work with Ayahuasca but also wish to have an initiation into Huachuma. This actually makes a lot of sense, as Huachuma began in the Amazon with the concept of the water mesada.
Yacumama is the serpent spirit that represents water and the essence of life springing from the great Amazon. He is pictured as a serpent and as the serpentine river that winds through the great forest of life, enlivening all the inhabitants from plants, to animals and us. Water is the essential ingredient for life.
In Ayahuasca rituals, one works with Pachamama, the great female spirit of the plants and animals – this is Mother Ayahuasca, the “mother earth” spirit who engages, teaches, and heals within the context of the Ayahuasca medicina. When working with Huachuma, one encounters a complementary male spirit, a Grandfather Huachuma. He is expressed in the Amazonian ritual in the form of Yacumama, the essence of water.
The ritual begins at the great mesa that don Howard has created inside the ceremonial molucca at the sanctuary. This large layout begins with the lower world, then the crossbar mesa representing the middle world (our everyday dimension), and the mesa at the top representing the upper worlds. There is also a lancon or stone stela like the one at the great temple of the Jaguar. This stands at the cross point and represents the “axis mundi” or the world axis. It leads up into the heavenly realms as well as down into the unconscious worlds. The mesa is a three-dimensional map to a multi-dimensional universe.
Huachuma cactus is reduced to a liquid that is intensely bitter, but is not disgusting or nauseating as Ayahuasca is. Also, there are no dietary restrictions with Huachuma as there is in Ayahuasca. One drinks the liquid and is offered an immediate chaser of limonade – a tart and non-sweet lemonade that really helps to offset the bitterness and slight discomfort of drinking the medicine. This will be offered at various times throughout the length of the ceremony, which can take eight hours or so.
[Click on any small photo for a larger view.]
Unlike Ayahuasca, this does not occur at night with darkness and the singing of icaros. Huachuma is an animating and animist agent and it is useful to take it during daylight and, in the initial stages, get out into nature to see and experience it. We took the medicine at about two in the afternoon and after the initial rituals, immediately got into the boat for a trip some miles upriver to a tiny settlement. We pulled into the bank and walked along a long covered wooden walkway to get to the village. A few locals came out to see us and some of the kids played in the river or with a soccer ball while one boy presented a monkey for us to see. As this is happening, I was coming alive with the energy of the Huachuma medicine. A gentle rain began to fall, and the individual drops were superimposed over the verdant green fields surrounding the settlement. Each drop vibrated like electric diamonds and the greens beyond seemed to glow with life and energy. This is a very active medicine that, in this initial phase, engages us in a physical and super-awake mode that leads to a strong sense of joy and happiness.
Everything is alive! This is what animism feels like! As we returned to our boat, I settled in and took a fresh apple to eat. It’s flavor was enhanced in the same energetic manner as the objects I saw. It was delicious! A truly wonderful sunset glowed in orange and red like an open kiln under the rain clouds that began to gather.
As we motored back down the Rio Momón, that rain began to fall in earnest – a true tropical downpour. This was no ordinary rain, with or without our enhanced senses. It rained in sheets until the boat was literally encased in a tube of water. Water below the hull, water rushing the canvas above our heads as if we were under a huge waterfall, and not rain streaks, but walls of solid water on all sides of the open-sided boat. The pilot had to slow to a crawl and use his searchlights to make our way safely back to the sanctuary. Howard said that in his quarter century of living here, it was the hardest rain event he had been in on the water.
Rather than feel in danger during this huge rain, I and the others felt safe, curious, and engaged. It was obvious to us that we had truly invoked Yacumama – the Water Spirit – and he had manifested for us in a very big way.
With a safe return to the ceremonial molucca, and with darkness upon us, the next phases of the medicine began. In the presence of the mesa, we entered into a more internal space where introspection and visioning can happen. This lasts until about ten o’clock when the medicine begins to dissipate and we retreat to the dining hall for a good meal. This was the first meal in about two and a half weeks for me that had any salt in it. We had some bits of chicken that were fried with some salt, and they were truly delicious after the long diet and having just been sensitized with the Huachuma.
I feel like I have internalized much of the work I did with Huachuma and will be processing it in my life for a while to come, just as with the work with Ayahuasca. I was unable to continue on with Maestro Howard on his Mesada Pilgrimage this time, but hope and intend to do so next year. These ceremonies: five Ayahuasca, one Bobinsana, and one Huachuma over two and a half weeks, is enough for me for now. I am very happy to have had the opportunity, however, to work with Huachuma this time and experience the great Chavin Mesa and the power of this level and style of shamanism, based as it is on the very work that our ancestors were engaged in over three thousand years ago.
San Pedro ceremonies are rather common in the Andes and are generally not nearly as powerful in terms of the actual medicine used. They also blend in all the syncretic religious elements that tint the experience and give it a shape that does not originate with the plant and its spirits. I feel very fortunate to have encountered Howard’s mesa, an authentic, pre-Columbian shamanism that resonates with the power and energy of the great Spirits.
For those of you who may have anticipated an update before now, I appreciate your patience. I decided to wait until I returned home to write my final journal entries for my trip to the Amazon. After the third Ayahuasca ceremony, my work there became more intense and involving, plus the internet connections on-site were less than ideal for posting to the internet. I have safely made my way back to my home in Texas after a final week taking an initial look around Panama. Now, I can begin to catch up on these posts and eventually get some of my many photos and audio recordings posted as well. Please stay tuned!
The final two Ayahuasca sessions were more intense and physical than the previous three. As I somewhat anticipated after the first three ceremonies, the visions aspect of my work here was to be limited, but powerful in the end. It seemed I was to deal mostly with physical cleansing, healing, and insights, which I hope to carry forward into my everyday life. The fourth ceremony was especially physical in that I reacted with a hard sweat all night long. This is uncomfortable, if not concerning, and it really focuses one on the state of the body throughout the session. This hard-sweat ceremony happened to me once before, so I was aware that it might be a possibility this cycle.
My final, fifth ceremony was completely clear of the sweats and other discomforts, and this round of Ayahuasca did let me experience a powerful kind of vision. I won’t actually describe this in detail as it was quite personal and had to do with my own inner emotional state and body state after some recent surgery for cancer. I will say that in essence, it allowed me to experience a kind of complete healing and merging with the universe in a way that I feel is the actual state of being that is obscured by our material lives and bodies. I was made to feel completely loved and welcomed into an embrace of unity with the spirits that watch and love us. Understand that this is my interpretation of the shamanic experience I had, and not a claim for others to believe or reject. While common themes do occur and overarching interpretations can be implied, shamanism, especially of this kind and intensity, is only interpretable by the individuals who partake of the experience, and then only for themselves. There are no priests in shamanism.
Five Ayahuasca ceremonies. When done authentically in the proper set and setting and with properly prepared medicine, this is a massive set of experiences and represents the most that anyone should attempt in one cycle of work. Maestro Howard said that to do more would be like pouring water into a cup already brimming full. The experiences would just spill over and be lost along with their personal value to the participant. With the strict diet and these five intense ceremonies over about two weeks time, I was feeling very stretched and yet full indeed, and I was pleased and ready for it to come to its conclusion.
Some of my wonderful fellow participants headed home after this, and a few stayed with me at the sanctuary to engage in a different kind of plant teacher medicine: Huachuma. This is the great medicine of the ancient Chavin culture of Peru and I will describe that ceremony in my next post.
This is the second post from my Ayahuasca retreat in the Upper Amazon, in Peru. I have come through three Ayahuasca ceremonies, with two more to follow starting tomorrow night.
Tonight, we had a break from them with a special ceremony to work with another teacher plant called bobinsana. This beautiful blooming shrub is a heart-opening plant and working with it helps one suppress any tensions or anger in our lives. It also, and this is what most intrigues me, is a plant that brings vivid dreams and allows you to remember them. I have worked with my dreams for years and find it frustrating when I cannot recall them, so I will be very interested in this aspect of working with bobinsana.
Sometimes, when working with Ayahuasca, one receives strong visions. These are usually cathartic in nature and may be frightening or very beautiful and reassuring. Visions are not the only modality in which Ayahuasca works, however. It can be very healing even when there are no significant visions. In ancient times, and still in some places today, the Ayahuasca vine is taken by itself without the DMT admixture plants that bring the “light” of the visions. The physical purging, the discomforts, and the perspectives one receives as we witness our body reacting, are useful in themselves. We are cleansed and recalibrated to a norm that many of us have deviated from significantly. This is likely the case for me, as my first three sessions have not produced many visions of consequence.
I did see a representation of Mother Ayahuasca in my second ceremony, but she was presented as a stereotyped grandmother figure with a blank cloth face. My intent in this session was to personally thank her for the work she did for me and with me in 2006. I spoke into the vision that I understood that she presents many different faces to those who seek her and that I did not expect another dramatic audience with her as I had before. In response to this, the grandmother figure started taking on a series of faces of evil-looking characters, monsters, aliens, and then a few that were comical monsters. This seemed to be an affirmation of my comments.
In my third ceremony, I saw the face of my own beloved, late mother. It only lasted a moment, but I called out my love to her.
After the first two ceremonies, I had severe mariacion, or dizziness, that lasted into the next morning, along with ongoing purging overnight. The dizziness is not unusual, but the severity of it was for me. The cold flower bath the following morning helps to dispel this, as the psychic space that was opened up in the ceremony is closed again by don Rober. After my third ceremony, however, I experienced no dizziness at all and I was able to sleep comfortably. The tea is getting stronger and consequently more difficult to drink each time. I am looking forward to the final two sessions on Monday and Tuesday nights, and we will see if I have reached a plateau or if there is a vision of consequence in store for me.
To be continued as circumstances allow.
As I write this, I am in the Upper Amazon Jungle, on the Rio Momón. It is early in the morning, before dawn and there is a refreshing rainstorm cleansing the air and replenishing all the life that surrounds me. I have joined a group of eight other seekers who have converged here to work with the ancient and sacred spirit medicine called Ayahuasca. This is the first of my posts from the SpiritQuest Lodge, a spectacular facility here in Peru, designed and dedicated to the most authentic and unadulterated ancient shamanic tradition anywhere in the world encompassing Ayahuasca and other healing and teaching plants of South America.
I have come through my first of five ceremonies. Five is about the limit for anyone working in a set of ceremonies like this, so this is an intensive set of encounters with Ayahuasca. I will be presenting some brief descriptions of my experiences, but detailed analysis will have to wait until I’ve been able to integrate the experiences better. Most who come to work here are seeking healings of some kind. This is the prime modality of these plants and is a powerful reason for our human interactions with them. In my case, I have actually received bodily healings from my previous work some seven years ago. I have also been given sincere gifts of the heart from the Spirit who is an integral part of this teacher plant.
My reasons for returning are twofold. I wish to make an offering to that Spirit by my pilgrimage here and by giving my deepest thanks to her. Second, I request to learn from her and to ask her to bring energies to my life as she did seven years ago – energies that changed me and my life path profoundly. I have arrived at a new major life transition point. It is a good one and I hope to gather energy not only from within myself but from the larger holistic realm of spirit. I ask for a boost to my creative efforts in the coming years while also giving me the perspective and energies to corral my fears and overcome old habits that limit my progress.
My first Ayahuasca session was surprisingly mild. As a last minute thought while offering my Intentions to the vine, I asked the “little doctors,” or “doctorcitos” in the local parlance, to give me some help with my physical body, specifically in the lower digestive tract where I have lingering problems from some cancer surgery a couple of years ago. The doctorcitos are, to my understanding, intelligent parts of our own bodies who work at the molecular and DNA level as the maintenence crew for our systems. When they are encountered in visionary space, they are interesting characters, often very enthusiastic and helpful – anxious to “show you around.”
The onset of the visionary and spirit space in an Ayahuasca session is usually quite strong and dramatic. It can be overwhelming, but usually it feels like a strong wave that brings you up to a highly energetic state. I was waiting for this to happen, hoping for the best, but it seemed to take a very long time. I wondered if the tea was just too weak this time, but I noticed the others beginning their purging. Some were crying and otherwise dealing with the teachings and personal things of their visions, so I knew there was good Work being done and that the brew was strong. It seemed that I was to have an easier time of it tonight. Ayahuasca effects are very personalized, even though we all drink the same medicine.
Finally, the buzzing came, although slow and tentative. A very straightforward vision appeared of a few soda cans floating in a little cement gutter with a small rivulet of water. They turned this way and that, then one aligned with the channel and opened up it’s bottom to make a path for the water to flow through. The others did the same. Then the vision stopped and a series of other scenes, mostly nonsensical, took its place. I had a panoply of the type of visions that are what don Howard calls “taking out the trash,” which is the process of dumping a lot of cognitive chatter and ideation that gets in the way of deeper visions. Much of the imagery here is due to the DMT component of the tea and I saw a continuous background of intricate lines composed of vivid red, green, and blue. These formed into tiles and moved across the background in very pretty ways. This kind of geometric imagery is fun, but not meaningful. Knowing this, I realized that my session would not take me deep into Ayahuasca space this time and then it occurred to me that I had been told what this ceremony was about. That first little vision of the cans was a very plain “text message” from the doctorcitos saying something like, “Got your message, boss. We’re on the job!” They would go to work aligning my “plumbing” to make me feel better, and that is just what they did. After the ceremony was over, I spent the rest of the night in that same light vision space while dealing with purging and cleansing that, while unpleasant to do, was helpful to put my body right. This is a good thing that allows me more freedom and access to work on the deeper spiritual things to come.
Tonight, I go into the second session and I expect to be taken deeper into the space where visioning is meaningful. It may be easy or it may be hard. The Ayahuasca tea potentiates over time, becoming stronger each time we drink. The shamans here are among the best in the world, working in the old ways, and I feel truly blessed to be here in this amazing place, learning from and singing to the plants.
More updates as I go, as long as I am able to do so.
This is a sticky post. Please scroll down for current posts! Thanks.
A main feature of this blog is the journal report I made of my initial experiences with Ayahuasca in 2006. This sticky post is here so you don’t miss my five-part series of essays called “Ancient Songs and Green Magic” covering my entire experience in the Peruvian Amazon. If you are curious about how a traditional, authentic Ayahuasca ceremony happened to someone who had never experienced it or anything like it before, I will take you with me through an entire arc of experiences from a lesson of sheer terror to a wondrous encounter and love from Mother Ayahuasca herself, plus life-changing after effects that still resonate now. Begin the journey HERE or click the ceremonial image below. I welcome your comments. –– Scroll down for current posts.
While preparing for my trip to the Upper Amazon in two weeks, I’ve been thinking about my main area of interest and inquiry – contemplating and exploring the possibility of the actual reality of the other “spirit dimension” that one is so forcefully carried into when working with Ayahuasca. This is such an impressive experience that most who encounter it come away from it convinced that it is real and does exist independently somewhere or somewhen other than this physical universe we normally live in.
I’ve been reading a very interesting book that, while not speaking specifically to the plant teachers, analyzes and compares the phenomena and practices of shamanism with that of the psychological approach and theories of Carl Jung. I’ve always found the two sets of ideas to be very much intertwined and comprising two ways of describing the same thing. I’m particularly struck when Jung says things that show he understood the apparent reality of the “spirit dimension” of the shamanists. The book is “Shamanism and the Psychology of C. G. Jung – The Great Circle,” by Robert E. Ryan (2002).
One passage where Ryan speaks of Jung’s ideas really resonates with me:
“. . . one of the most important touchstones of Jung’s thought and the shaman’s experience (is that) events experienced by the mind in what we would call the ‘psychic or inner world’ would have their own claim to a reality equal to that which the same mind imposes on the unknowable world presented by the senses. Each is a realm of experience in which we seek durable laws with their own universality which allow us to track and predict change or transformation in that realm. We must suspend our reductive tendency to regard as ‘merely psychological’ an inwardly encountered pattern of experience capable of producing transformations in a process which has enlisted the depths of the human mind for perhaps tens of thousands of years, thus holding a pedigree enduring far longer than any of the discoveries of our Western scientific materialism.”
– “Shamanism and the Psychology of C. G. Jung – The Great Circle,” – Robert E. Ryan, Vega, London, 2002, p. 102
Western society is so immersed in materialistic way of thinking that it is easy to simply dismiss visions or powerful dreams as “just psychological phenomena” – that is, happening only in our brains and not exhibiting an external reality. In other words, brain fiction. Anyone who has worked with Ayahuasca will tell you that this is simply not believable. The vision space Ayahuasca takes us into is not only vivid and self-generated, but it is far richer and more detailed than one can ever imagine producing in one’s own mind, upon an instant, and with imagery so vastly original and unknown to that person in normal life. The entities one meets in this realm are vivid as well, and have their own agendas, interact with us as separate beings, and sometimes even require communication and the making of deals or arrangements between themselves and us.
It would be the equivalent of accusing the early European explorers of the Americas of having made their stories up, deluding themselves into believing that there was such a vast and amazing New World out there with all those strange things and beings in it.
Perhaps the spirit dimensions revealed by Ayahuasca are merely “brain fiction,” but if so, that hypothesis speaks of vast depths within our human machine that are not only unmeasured, but totally unsuspected and inexplicable. Why would we have evolved such a thing for the straightforward needs of an animal’s survival purposes? One may as well hammer a nail with a hydrogen bomb, or fill a tin cup by pouring in an ocean. For those who have ventured into it, this dimension or realm and the things that are seen on its shores is a great mystery – a new world and a new frontier that reduces all other human explorations to insignificance. As Graham Hancock has said, it may even represent the next stage of our own evolution. Who, seeing it this way, would not be thrilled and excited to go on such a journey of discovery?
I’ll be crossing quite a few borders on my way to and from Peru and the Amazon, but it is the esoteric border I will cross while sitting still in the heart of the great forest that I am most interested in, apprehensive of, and hopeful about experiencing. I can think of no greater adventure and no better thing to do with my energies and time than to plan my expedition well, board the magical boat of Ayahuasca, and venture into that new continent, slipping between the folds of space and time and seeing around that strange bend that no one can normally find. It is a bend not of this dimension. It can be navigated with the help of the teacher plants and the experienced human guides – our shamans. However, we must be ready, alert, and open to discovery not only about the new universe itself, but also to powerful discovery of our own selves as we cross and recross that often frightening border.
As I prepare myself for a series of ceremonial Ayahuasca sessions in June, I’m reading and re-reading many things about the great spirit medicine. I always enjoy Steve Beyer’s blog on Ayahuasca and I wanted to share a link to one of his very best essays from about a year ago, called “What Do the Spirits Want from Us?”
Link to article here.
In an orthodox, received-religion setting, this might remind us of a question posed by a preacher or teacher who rhetorically asks, “What does God want from us?” and then proceeds to answer their own question (often at great length) based on his or her own ideas – their own presumptions, fed by their own interpretations of the sacred texts they’ve “received.”
In the case of Ayahuasca and shamanism in general, it is very different. When Steve or his shaman or someone taking Ayahuasca asks this, he is being literal and expects an answer to come from without, not from within our ego mind. That is, he looks for an answer in the form of information available to be gained when we enter sacred dimensions and literally ask the spirits themselves. This is not a presumption. Anyone can go do this and see for themselves what they will see and ask what they will ask. The spirits are there whether we approach them or not. If someone does not “believe” in spirits but never approaches them in the way that those who do so find effective, then that person is speaking an opinion, not an observation based on knowledge or experience, which is to say it is also presumptive.
In his essay, Steve speaks about how we cannot be a tourist when dealing with the spirits, while being on a vision fast, engaging in a talking circle with others, or within our dreams. Doing these things requires a commitment and one’s full involvement and attention – a “being there” in the moment and being fully engaged.
This is especially important for me as I contemplate what I “want” from my ceremonies, and how I should approach those rituals and the spirit beings themselves in terms of attitude and expectations.
“We cannot just go to the spirits and expect them to give us what we want. They may well have other plans for us. In fact, rather than asking — or, as some people do, demanding — that they heal us, or transform us, or make us into someone else, we should just pour out our hearts to them in prayer. We should not go to them with requests or demands or even expectations.
We should tell them what we need; tell them what we fear; tell them what we regret. We should speak to them honestly from our hearts, and then listen devoutly with our hearts to what they tell us.”
In my initial ceremonies back in 2006, I found this to be true. Once I stopped listing out what I wanted to see and experience, I was able to listen, comprehend, and receive the wisdom, love, healing, and guidance I was hoping for. I had to get my own ego out of the way and out of the process by basically telling it to shut up and sit still for a while.
One of the most important points Steve makes is one I try to remember within the consensus reality of our everyday lives. This is the understanding that the Spirits are not “elsewhere” but are with us always and can and do influence our lives. We, ourselves, are Spirits as part of our constitution as human animals. Whether we envision them in this way as part of our own Self (which they are) or see them as alien entities (which I believe they also are), we can work in harmony with them and the energies they bring to us if we are aware and open – listening and understanding what we are shown with a heart open to love.
I’m back to some blogging after taking a few hard-work weeks off to remodel my old house for sale and then move myself and all my stuff into a new place. This has been a physical task that has taken a toll on my now aging body, but it is just one of those passages in life that re-adjusts us into a new set of possibilities going forward. It is also an apt metaphor for the kind of spiritual/mental “remodeling and moving” that I will be engaged in with my upcoming trip to Peru to work with Ayahuasca once again.
I will be in the Upper Amazon during most of June to participate in a number of ceremonies with Ayahuasca and Huachuma. These two are sometimes spoken of as Grandmother and Grandfather spirit medicines, complimentary in their effects and influence on us. This will be my first encounter with Huachuma, also known as the San Pedro cactus. This is South America’s version of the peyote cactus, and contains similar compounds.
It will be my second series of encounters with Ayahuasca after my initial passages in 2006 (see my five-part series here). I have been thinking about and longing to return to re-engage with Ayahuasca ever since those special days, and I am flooded with a wide range of emotions and thoughts. At the same time, my cognitive brain is busy figuring out all the travel and logistical arrangements. Good to let each part of me do what it is best at!
From airfares to immunizations, the travel details can get a bit complex, but they all work themselves out, of course. The emotional/spiritual aspects are far more interesting and are the focus of my work, so it is good to sort through them and express them at each stage of this new journey. So, here are some of the things I’m thinking and feeling about this upcoming encounter.
Stories of Ayahuasca visions can make it seem like a marvelous, loving, and wondrous experience only. They certainly can be a marvelous, loving, and wondrous experience – but not only. Ayahuasca has also been spoken of as the ultimate in psychic inner work, usually in a phrase like “One Ayahuasca session is worth 10 years of psychoanalysis.” However it manifests for each individual, it can, indeed, be an extremely powerful self-work and self healing experience. Sometimes dark and terrifying. Intense.
I touched on this in an earlier post, speaking of how this kind of teaching vision experience will come to us, but we do not know when it will come or how intense or troubling it will be for us. That’s where the apprehension comes in. There are also apprehensions about the physical rigors of taking the tea, of course. It is not a pleasant drink, and Westerners often have scruples with the strong purging that is part of the process. These are not things to be dismissed or ignored, nor is our apprehension about them something we should consider as wrong or misplaced. The apprehension is useful and is a good sign that the partaker understands what category of experience he or she is getting into and does not take it lightly or for granted. Drinking Ayahuasca is a sacred act, and one that demands our full participation, even as we know it may not be easy – even as we know it may be very hard and uncomfortable.
Or, it may be wondrous, marvelous, loving . . .
So, yes, I feel apprehension about my upcoming experiences. It has been seven years since I’ve partaken, and I’m curious about how I’ll handle and interact with the brew this time. Many have reported that after a long hiatus like this, when they take the tea again, it’s as if they continued right where they left off last time. I hope that is true for me. I would like to build on my experiences and insights and go deeper into my self-work and on further into the spirit dimensions to learn and to understand more.
I also recently touched on the joyfulness of being with others when working with Ayahuasca. This is the flip side of apprehension. I am truly looking forward to meeting a new group of fellow travelers. My particular everyday life does not include many who understand or “approve” of working with psychoactive spirit medicines, so it is a fulfilling and enriching experience to be surrounded for two weeks by a group who is nothing but sympathetic, interested, and encouraging in these matters. I felt this way when I attended an Evolver conference a couple of years ago with Graham Hancock and Alex Grey and about 40 others of similar mind and spirit. We were at home together.
So, I’m anticipating the joy of being with like-minded people from all over the world, gathered in this most unlikely and magical of places for such wondrous and useful work and play.
Just a little more than a month away. I am eager to begin.
I’ll continue to post my pre-trip thoughts. When June comes, I will be off the grid for at least two weeks (as far as I know) and will be journaling on-site every day for future posts and other creative works. Then, I will catch everyone up on my new experiences after the fact. I’ll be traveling a third week through Panama, but will have internet access for certain there.
“Sacred space and sacred time and something joyous to do is all we need. Almost anything then becomes a continuous and increasing joy.
What you have to do, you do with play.
I think a good way to conceive of sacred space is as a playground. If what you’re doing seems like play, you are in it. But you can’t play with my toys, you have to have your own. Your life should have yielded some. Older people play with life experiences and realizations or with thoughts they like to entertain. In my case, I have books I like to read that don’t lead anywhere.”
Excerpt From: Campbell, Joseph. “A Joseph Campbell Companion: Reflections on the Art of Living.” Joseph Campbell Foundation, 2011-08-01.
A lovely quote from the great Joseph Campbell posted on his Facebook group page today (here).
This resonates as I prepare to return to the Amazon in June for an intensive series of Ayahuasca ceremonies. One of the most enduring aspects of working with this great plant medicine is the spirit of play and joy that envelopes the group you work with. Even though there are often tough hurdles during the ceremonies, and honest apprehension occurs when approaching the unknown of this sacred space, this sense of camaraderie and joyful excitement suffuses the family of those who participate together, though we are all strangers before we meet in the great forest.
At least, that was my experience and it reflects the experiences reported by many others. It is part, I think, of what we sense as “authenticity” when working with Ayahuasca. It affects our holistic attitudes and spirits in a positive way that reflects what Campbell was talking about – the essence of sacred work as being like play and expressed in joy.
I am anticipating just such a time ahead. Fortunately, when we gather for this great work, everyone brings their own toys, and they are all really good ones!
As I prepare to return later this year to the Amazon to work with Ayahuasca once again, I’ve been looking at some of the prep work I did a few years ago, prior to my first encounter with the great spirit medicine. One striking thing (especially looking at it now, long after the fact) was an I Ching reading I did a few months before I left for South America. I see and use the I Ching (the ancient Chinese life guidance oracle system) as a “synchronicity system” that reflects our greater selves back at us from outside the normal time stream. This can inform in ways that are surprising, especially if there is an emotional or life-altering component to the question one asks of the oracle (or rather, of one’s Self).
I asked, “Can I expect Ayahuasca to change my life in a positive way?”
The answer (which I’ll partly quote from my favorite English interpretation of the symbols by Stephan Karcher) was hexagram 36, “Brightness Hiding” (field over radiance). The symbol is of a setting sun, indicating travel through demon’s country.
It told me:
“Brightness Hiding describes your situation in terms of entering the darkness to protect yourself, or to begin a difficult new endeavor. . . Conceal your intelligence by voluntarily entering what is beneath you, like the sun sets in the evening. There is real possibility of injury in the situation. [Meaning the current life situation outside or before this action.] By dimming the light of your awareness and entering the darkness, you can avoid being hurt. This becomes a chance to release from old problems and inaugurate a new time.
“Putting your ideas to the trial by accepting drudgery and difficulty will bring profit and insight. Adapt yourself to the situation. . . . Don’t lose your integrity. Be clear about what is really happening.”
[“I Ching – The Classic Chinese Oracle of Change-The First Complete Translation with Concordance”, Stephen Karcher, Vega, 2002, p. 405.]
This passage one takes is not darkness for the sake of darkness – not an evil trip with no purpose for the voyager other than harm and fear. With Ayahuasca in particular, it is always a purposed passage through the underworld of our soul in order to learn what we are and where our weaknesses come from. We can benefit from this dark passage, this study of our under-structure. If we are shown them, we can better repair the creaking beams that hold up our thoughts, our egos, our presumptions, our social mores and norms, and our very beliefs. We can gain a holistic view of ourselves that will inform us once we are back in our ego-based persona, ingrained in the consensus reality flow of our “normal” lives.
This is not an easy or comfortable journey, this trek through the basement of our being, but it can bring us great value if we consent to do this work. The thing with Ayahuasca is that you will encounter this trying but important task, but you won’t control when it happens. Therefore, one must be ready for it at any time and we must truly and heartily consent to do this work from the beginning.
The rewards are definitely worth the real work we do and the apprehension we naturally feel as we approach the mouth of the dark cave of ourselves.
[For more comprehensive information on Ayahuasca, see my five part series, here.]
Ayahuasca is the great Spirit Medicine of the Amazon. It brings one directly into a different realm of reality. Whether one wishes to name that state as another dimension, a spirit or spiritual realm, or simply non-ordinary and alien, it is the most amazing transformation any human can safely experience and still remain on this planet in this human form.
After seven years of life reaction to my first Ayahuasca journeys (for which story see here), and processing and integrating the life changes it caused for me (all challenging but totally necessary to heal me and re-create me into a better man), I’m making plans to return to the Upper Amazon this summer or fall to continue my studies and explorations with that supreme medicine of the jungle. In doing so, my goal is to re-engage with the spirits of the plants and learn what I can about the things that I do not know. Sounds simple enough, right? However, this is a bit like saying, “I think I’ll go to Mars next month and do particle physics research.” The trip is extremely challenging, and the knowledge one is after is esoteric and in many ways alien to our current understandings or way of being.
Even though that is so, it is what I and others who work with Ayahuasca attempt. It’s exhilarating, to say the least, to cast one’s self into the raw frontiers of human perception – a pioneer in a fragile human ship, tossed by waves and seeking a comprehensible and attainable shore. It is even more remarkable when said pioneer suddenly realizes he is being guided by an interested, even friendly hand, but a hand that is distinctly and obviously not human. This force, this spirit, seems to want the pioneer to understand this new and intimidating realm and to help him or her process the information. This spirit also seems to want to influence the explorer’s own human life, both to heal the body and to affect the life path they take from that encounter going forward.
This is what has happened to me, and I’m thrilled with the prospect of setting sail once more and, hopefully, encountering that elemental spirit in some form again.
I was brought up as a Christian and I took it very seriously for over 40 years, even to the point of writing an influential book on New Testament interpretation. Taking the path of shamanism and exploring beyond the borders of current knowledge (religious, political, societal, and scientific) is viewed askance by those still embedded in orthodox structures of belief. It is often judged as a negative moral choice, influenced by the devil or the “world.” For the person who seeks knowledge beyond those structures, however, the process has nothing to do with moral choices. The acquisition of knowledge (especially “new” knowledge from unknown and untapped sources) leads to completely different and unexpected perspectives on everything, especially our worldview and the philosophies that worldview engenders in us.
In my search for What Is Real, the old orthodox religious worldview is simply inadequate and it has been left behind me as I have grown into new paradigms. Now, I and others like me, seek knowledge where it is most different from what I know. We seek not what is known, but what is unknown. This is the mantra of science and of humanity.
The unknown exists beyond the borders of our paradigms. We must seek it by traveling to and beyond the true frontier. Wish me a good journey and I promise to report any curious sightings in the new worlds beyond the veils of our mundane lands.
La Selva – The Forest. That’s the name given by the locals to that greatest forest on Earth, that unimaginably immense ocean of green we call the Amazon Jungle.
It contains the greatest diversity of animals and plants in the world, and is the source of much of our breathing air and medicines. It is a vast repository of bio-chemical riches that we have only just begun to learn about, even as the trees and life systems are so carelessly and ignorantly destroyed en masse, every day.
Those who work with the traditional great psychoactive medicines of La Selva, like Ayahuasca, see this green sea as something more than “just trees.” For those who have traveled into the enigma of the jungle beyond the physical matrix, being in the midst of the jungle is a powerful experience. There is a palpable sense of the life force animated as a conscious and intentional entity. Gaia is not a metaphor. Mother Earth becomes a very real person. There is great mystery here and great capacity for gaining knowledge and for healing.
This is not a secret experience, reserved for an elite. It is available to anyone who would learn or who would be healed, but it is rarely an easy path. Dealing with one’s own personal psychic challenges can be the hardest work one has ever accomplished. And then, it can be challenging to actually come face to face with an Elemental being and live to tell of it, even if she should prove to be kind and loving. To paraphrase Terence McKenna, one might in that situation be most in danger of expiring from astonishment.
Having braved the journey and traveled through the amazing veil and returned to the physical world of trees and rivers, we are never the same. What unknown new measure shall we use to describe our new perspective of ourselves and our world? The old ones are surely as mundane as the lives left behind us, and will not suffice.
Regardless, it is better to have dared to see a marvel than to settle inside an old skin, fearing anything that changes us.
“I would rather know a fearful truth than remain deceived by comforting falsehoods.”
(A saying I wrote down many years ago, and one that in my life has typified that other old saying about being careful what you wish for, for you might get it.)
You can read about this kind of ancient and authentic journeying in my five part series on Ayahuasca, here.
[GoogleMaps image of Iquitos, Peru (the lighter area center), the Amazon River on the right, and the Rio Nanay as the black squiqqle on the left side.]
(Click on any photo for full size.)
Ayahuasca is the great spirit medicine of the Amazon. When it is taken in context in the jungle environment and with an appropriate “set and setting,” the power of the tea is enhanced greatly. This mesa incorporates elements of mestizo shamanism from the Amazon and the Andes to reinforce the spiritual/dimensional space that the participants will be working in. The fractal patterns of the Shipibo tribespeople are especially potent in this regard, as they represent the actual dimensional space that one enters when working with the Medicine.
This is from Spiritquest, near Iquitos, Peru, just off the Rio Amazonas itself. I’ve developed quite a love of Shipibo design and I have obtained some mandalas and other designed artifacts and ceremonial clothing both from on-site there in Peru and from my home in the USA, but the textiles shown here are of superb quality, not available elsewhere. I believe they were made especially for the shamans and venue there on the Rio Momón.
The mesa serves as a representational symbol of the space or dimensions that will be accessed, both positive and negative.
For much more on Ayahuasca, please read my five part series titled, “Ancient Songs and Green Magic.”
The Murui Huitoto tribe lives in the northern part of the Upper Amazon in Peru and northward into Columbia. The name Huitoto refers to their use of the Huito plant (Genipa americana), which provides a permanent dark black-blue stain for the skin. This is used ceremonially and will naturally exfoliate after about two weeks.
As with most Upper Amazon tribes, the Huitoto use and honor the Ayahuasca vine and psychoactive tea made from it. Wisely, they also cultivate the vine in order to replenish it and make it continually available. This is done in a synchronistic manner in the jungle environment, not in planted rows. Ayahuasca likes to grow on or around trees, so they will plant vines at the base of certain trees in their tribal areas.
[Click on images for larger photos.]
In 2006, I was privileged to meet one group of this tribe on the Amazon, just downriver from Iquitos. We hiked in a couple of miles from the great river and brought in some medical supplies. They honored us with dance and friendship, and we also swam in the small river there.
It is always intriguing to see the Ayahuasca vine growing in its natural setting, surrounded by all the wondrous plant life and animal life (including us) that stretches for thousands of miles. Ayahuasca is a great Spirit that lives in the heart of the life of the Earth.
See my five part series on Ayahuasca starting here.
I was recently profiled on a travel and camping blog by Daniel Lawton. He interviewed me about my shamanic experiences with Ayahuasca and my world travels.
Here’s the link:
DMT: The Spirit Molecule (2012) – available for free viewing on Hulu (only in US for now). Click HERE or on title below:
This is an excellent film made by a friend of mine here in Austin, Texas, Mitch Schultz. It was inspired by the seminal book by Rick Strassman, M.D., by the same title. Strassman conducted the first DEA approved clinical research into DMT in the early 1990’s. (Book highly recommended, btw!)
The film is “An investigation into the long-obscured mystery of dimethyltryptamine (DMT), a molecule found in nearly every living organism and considered the most potent psychedelic on Earth.”
The film features interviews and commentary from some very interesting and well-known writers and explorers like Graham Hancock and Dennis McKenna.
DMT is an integral component of the Ayahuasca tea – the great spirit medicine of the Amazon. You can read my series on my own amazing Ayahuasca experiences in the Upper Amazon in this blog, beginning here: Ancient Songs and Green Magic, Part I.
Here lies the luminous and numinous edge of the continent of mankind’s knowledge. Many fear the great Unknown and recoil from it. Others venture out to explore, to learn, and to bring back untold treasures for themselves and all of humanity. We must not allow the fearful to forbid the brave, or we may lose our birthright and our heart.
For those interested in the entheogenic San Pedro (Huachuma) or Peyote cacti, this is an interesting article on the near-mythical Cactus of the Four Winds.
It is very possible that humans have caused some ancient, powerful psychoactive plants to go extinct. Soma is the most notable one of these. It may be that some of these plants were/are very rare, and we simply loved them to death. It will be interesting to see if this one (if truly a separate plant) can be found still living in some strange nook of the Peruvian mountains or deserts.