It was the morning of October 14, 2019, checking out of the hotel in Lhasa, Tibet, I was taking in the magnificent view of Potala Palace through the grand picture window in the lobby. After 3 full days touring Lhasa we were ready to fly back across the Himalayas to Kathmandu for the next leg of our tour. Nowang, our Tibetan Buddhist guide, approached me with his persistent warm smile. I greeted him, “Good Morning, Nowang!”
With his iconic praying hands together in front of his face he bows slightly and, as always, reverentially.
I pointed to the bamboo bracelet on my wrist and said, “Whenever I wear this, I will think of you!” Nowang, who had negotiated the purchase of the $.70 trinket at Barkhor Bazaar two days prior, took my hands and held them gently in his enclosed, praying hands and said softly, “When you meet the Dalai Lama, please tell him about me.”
“One cup of Ayahuasca equals 10 years of therapy; maybe 20.”
~ Jeff McNairy, Chief Medical Officer, Rythmia Life Advancement Center, Guanacaste, Costa Rica
The call to plant medicine came to me later in life. First there was a passage in a book I picked up in mid-2019, then an Ayurveda consult and chakra balancing session while in Nepal. At the end of 2019 and into 2020 deeper discussions with my therapist, a lunch with a buddy who has a Ph.D. of Psychology who geeks out on the fine print of the ongoing psychedelic studies at Johns Hopkins, NYU and UCLA. That led me to read several books including Michael Pollan’s “How to Change Your Mind”. A fellow participant in Caron’s Breakthrough program had done extensive research and recommended a podcast.
While the preliminary research seemed fascinating (i.e. Iraq vets with severe PTSD having suicidal thoughts eradicated after one therapeutic treatment of MDMA/Ecstasy), as a 62 year old recovering alcoholic with 33 years of continuous sobriety using the 12 Step program of Alcoholic Anonymous, along with talk therapy and wide range of prescription meds for depression and anxiety, I had, and have, zero interest in doing anything that could jeopardize my sobriety. Nada.
That being said, the persistent message the “Plant medicine heals trauma” continued to resonate in my brain. A deeper dive revealed a number of people with long term sobriety who reported tremendous insights and healing, without compromising their sobriety. A valuable discussion with one of my best friend’s daughter, a research neuroscientist currently mapping gene sequencing in the amygdala, that part of the brain that stores emotional memories, provided great insight as well as confirmed that for someone who still thinks about lighting his own farts with a match, I possessed a rudimentary understanding of how the relationship of DMT, serotonin, and the amygdala work together. More importantly, why I need to ween off the toxicity of anxiety and sleep meds if I wanted to further explore plant medicine.
Never one to be saddled with the burden of patience, I took the steps with my primary care physician and therapist to ween off my Zoloft, Ativan, and Ambien. By February I had scheduled a weeklong session at Rythmia Life Advancement Center (www.rythmia.com) for a May 2020 date. Then Covid hit and the subsequent postponements to July, then November, and finally to March 2021. While I look back and see how these delays genuinely served me well and put me into Rythmia with the right people at the right time, it doesn’t escape me that it took an actual pandemic for me to actually ‘practice’ patience. These delays, however, served to reinforce and bolster my commitment to explore this alternative path for a full year before I would actually drink my first cup.
In summary, my attraction and commitment to try plant medicine, specifically ayahuasca, was based on the following points:
- Plant medicine heals trauma
- Absence of toxicity or addictive properties in Ayahuasca
- Over 8,000 people have gone through Rythmia with reported 95% success (miracle) rate.
- If 1 cup of ayahuasca is equivalent to 10 or 20 years of therapy, and I can identify the root cause of my anxiety, heal from that, and reduce the amount of petroleum-based meds I’m taking – it is worth my time and money to explore.
- No it’s not the same charm as taking a wooden raft up the Amazon to a remote jungle village in Peru or Brazil, but Rythmia is a fully secured, licensed medical facility with a pool, a juice bar and a stable wifi situation. So there is that.
Rythmia Life Advancement Center, Guanacaste, Cost Rica.
March 21, 2021
I arrived on Sunday to join the group of 30 people who signed up for Rythmia Class 212. There were 4 married couples, at least 10 recovering people with sobriety ranging from 1 day to 38 years. We came from Australia, Costa Rica, Lithuania, France, U.K., Spain, and across the U.S. from Boston to Honolulu. From the first conversation on site and throughout the week my Hawaii birthplace, coming of age influence, and life-long longing continued to show up in ways beyond steroidal synchronicity.
The classroom sessions provided an overview of the week and covered the biological and chemical processes (i.e. the half-life of Ayahuasca is 2 ½ hours) including a breakdown of the ingredients of the ayahuasca brew and how DMT, Serotonin, the amygdala, and the pre-frontal cortex play together. We also reviewed spiritual principles at play, the vital importance of setting intentions along with meditation and breathing techniques, an overview of the medical facility and ancillary services. While the leaders stressed that each individual experience was different I was pleased that my AA and subsequent spiritual quests provided a solid foundation for my Ayahuasca journey.
On Monday we were instructed to not eat after 2:00 PM and report to the Maloca, the building where the ceremonies take place, at 5:30 PM. When I arrived at the Maloca, the butterflies in my belly were flappin’!
What follows are my description of the visions and insights I experienced while on the medicine during each of the four ceremonies. It is worth noting that the level of “knowing” each of these examples was as deep and rooted in reality as I have ever known. The psychedelic properties, to my surprise, did not dull my senses like alcohol had done during my drinking career. Just the opposite in fact, as every sensory receptor was firing on all cylinders, taking in information from locations remote and nearby, as well as what was being fed from within my mind.
My entire time on the medicine, 9 cups worth over the four days, I felt like I was looking at a split screen. One screen was my body and eyes as I experience the world as the first person normally, and the second screen was a meta shot, as if a camera was above me and could capture 360 degrees in four dimensions. Wild, I know.
Once you take the medicine, you don’t pick the crime or the confession or the rationalization – the medicine goes to the highest priority. The plant, Mother Ayahuasca, it is proffered, first scans the body and uses its innate, natural plant intelligence (like germination or photosynthesis) to identify the highest priority of healing in the body. Not my highest priority, not your priority, not your significant other’s priority, but the priority identified by the plant’s innate intelligence. Here is some of what Mother Ayahuasca showed me during the 4 plant medicine ceremonies.
The First Ceremony.
My Stated Intention: Show me who I have become
After the checking in process (remove shoes, scan fob, provide Herbal Support Therapy chip, and Covid temperature check) we are encouraged to “find the mattress calling you”. I was called to spot in the Northeast corner of the main room. At each location there was a mattress, a pillow, a folded blanket, a bucket at one end of the mattress alongside a roll of toilet paper. As luck would have it, I had the same mattress every night.
Next to me on the first night was Mike from the U.K. We were both Ayahuasca virgins and made expected nervous jokes about that before and after the ceremony. (It’s true! You never forget your first!)
After the Shaman blessed the Maloca and the Ayahuasca brew, his assisting crew, and all of us participants we were called to the front of the room. The two lines forming, took me back to my Catholic upbringing and Holy Communion. The analogy of mana and Jesus changing water to wine in Cana is really vibing pretty strong. As I stand in line with my cup I am watching the reactions of those in line before me.
As I moved into the second spot in line I began my own intentional practice. I took a deep breath, closed my eyes and recited my adapted version of the AA Third Step Prayer I use as part of my daily practice, “Mother, I offer myself to Thee, To build with me and to do with me as Thou wilt. Relieve me of the bondage of self, that I may better do Thy will. Take away my difficulties, that victory over them may bear witness to those I would help of Thy Power, Thy Love, and Thy Way of life. May I do Thy will always! Amen”
When signaled I stepped to the front, stated my name and my first intention, “Show me who I have become.”
Shaman Chris performs his ritual and blessing, hands me the cup, our eyes lock, I raise the cup to my mouth and pour it in.
My first taste of Ayahuasca was not disgusting. Like so many of the recovering alcoholics I had queried or followed on podcasts had indicated, there was nothing appealing at all. This was not a recreational aperitif. Any lingering fear I had that I would find it so pleasing that I could possibly fall back into a drinking addiction dissolved immediately.
I walked back to my mattress, pleasantly surprised the taste didn’t cause an immediate vomitary reaction. Yes, I was ready to do whatever it takes to get my being to a better place, but I just didn’t want to be the first guy to throw up.
After about 3-4 minutes a light nausea started to set in. I got up in the prescribed position with my head over the bucket at the end of my mattress. I pulled the roll of toilet paper a little closer, just in case. I looked over at my water bottle. We were told not to drink water until the end of the closing ceremony because it dilutes the effect of the medicine if it hits the stomach, but if we need to rinse our mouth out after vomiting and spit it in our bucket, that was OK.
Nothing. If vomiting was the predicate to kick off the miracle, it just wasn’t happening for me. The nausea passed and I sat back on my mattress and lay down. Time certainly loses its grip as I honestly had no idea how much time had passed since the first cup, or going to my knees over the bucket. It was my first-time using psychedelics and had no idea what to expect. What began to unfold for me was a heightened, unfiltered awareness of everything around me. My thoughts were loud and clear, but no more so than the trippy music piped in through speakers, and the Shaman’s own rich harmonica sound that seemed to permeate every fiber of my being, cutting through bone and flesh to oscillate my soul. The distant laughing, and crying, and retching from all across the room seem to be in the exact place and volume it should be. The smell of shamanic smoke, gentler than incense I recall at Catholic Mass, and the sound of feathers flapping and shamanic chanting, filled the air. All of these discordant sensations, erratically punctuated by a noble silence, unfolded as a perfect symphony.
I don’t think I have ever felt as connected and whole and loved and cared for in all of my nearly 62 years than I did in these moments of hearing, smelling, feeling every sensation. But it was early in the week.
I suddenly felt a gentle but persistent calling to go outside. We had been told it was alright to that if we felt we needed to, although it was stressed it was vitally important to not “run” from any uncomfortable feelings brought on by the medicine. It was important for us to maintain a supportive energy, or holding space, for our fellow “Ayahuasca Journeyers”. It was quiet in the room, and the call to outside was a steady drumbeat. I got off my mattress and steadied myself, checking my balance and took a big breath. I headed for the center door when I was guided toward the altar in the center of the Maloca. I was lucid, but unsure of my balance and heeded an earlier warning to not get too close to the altar and the sacred items laying upon it. I then, inexplicably, commenced to take 7 laps around the altar, feeling like I was a sentry on guard duty; I had the watch and it was my responsibility to provide the protective energy around the altar. Nobody told me I needed to do that, or that it was even a thing that needed to be done. I was tripping and, in my mind, this was what I was supposed to do.
After my seven-lap ceremony I walked outside to the firepit just outside the door. The embers were so bright, the heat so intense, the gentle cracking of the wood so crisp, the smoke so mesmerizing. On psychedelics every bit of life appears more alive and present and discernible. I could feel relationship with everything I gazed upon. I walked into the yard that has benches and hammocks and plenty of space to lay down a blanket. I was called to a hammock strung up on trees and wooden posts on the perimeter. I was struck by the dimensionality of leaves and branches I was walking through them. I somehow knew I didn’t need to move the branches out of my way with my hands as I walked, I could see the proper path to bob-and-weave my way through the gentle maze of dangling vines as I made my way toward the Northeast corner of the yard.
Every sensation of the ground on the soles of my bare feet was discernible. Every pebble, blade of grass, uneven depression in the ground touched by me feet registered distinctly in my brain. When I looked up at the dark sky I was shocked by the brightness of the moon and the stars. They seemed so close and accessible! If stars are normally 20 million miles away, they felt like they were 20 miles away. It was breathtaking, literally. The whole outside experience was a four-dimensional manifestation of Van Gogh’s “Starry Starry Night”. It was fascinating
I walked over to the hammock I had been called to. I sat down and lay back and suddenly a long cluster of stars and the moon appeared in my eyes’ view. I could feel a soft, serene smile spread across my face; a gentle but distinct ‘knowing’. I felt so peaceful, so content.
I then felt a presence sidle up next to me in the hammock, hip to hip, knee to knee, toes to toes. I irrefutably knew Mother Ayahuasca was making herself known to me. Her presence was calm, reassuring, and mostly, familiar. I sensed her arm raising to point skyward, and she said, “Look what we have created!”
My breath, again, was taken away by the clarity of her message and the realness of her presence. And in that precise moment the stars became my ancestors and my progeny all in a line for me to acknowledge and enjoy. She continued, “We are all so proud of what you have become.” she said, “You have done what we have asked you to do.”
And slept, laying there with a grin of contentment melted across my face
I am awoken by one of the Shamans assistants and “invited” me back in for the second cup.
Standing in line, definitely still woozy from the first cup. I wobbled as I looked around to see how the others were handling this. It seemed nearly everybody was returning for the second cup, but each individual had a different gait. Some were giggling hysterically, some were crying. One woman was dancing as if she was at club in line for another drink (I know, she was…), but was giving off the vibe of a whirling dervish from a Sanskrit poem.
I repeated the Third Step Prayer, stepped up and drank the second cup.
I returned to my mattress and notice the nausea returned a little more quickly and a little more intensely. I got up to the all-fours position, but couldn’t purge. I sat back down, then back up. I went through my breathing ritual, sending air in and back through each chakra. Still nauseous, but not productive. I thought about my intention, “Show me who I have become.” I was pretty miserable on all fours but couldn’t get the vomit to come. I just prayed to give me relief.
My father’s image flashed and the thought than crossed my mind is that I needed to heal this relationship. I was a little pissed and growing impatient; I’ve been dealing with my “Daddy issues” in therapy for over 30 years. I had forgiven him for not loving me the way that I thought I needed, I had accepted his shortcomings vis-à-vis my expectations. I had acknowledged his adoptive family situation, being raised by two active, untreated alcoholics was not ideal and impacted his ability to show love in a way that I wanted. I have even got to the point where I have truly accepted that not only was his love unconditional and given me to the fullest of his capability, but that he accepted and loved me for who I am, and is proud of me despite all of my shortcomings.
Then, inexplicably, it hit me. I must forgive myself for harboring the resentment against him for his perceived lack of love. And then I threw up from such a deep and dark place in the pit of my bowels unlike I had ever thrown up before. It was so complete and so full and so unfamiliar. Voluminous but somehow gentle.
I’m still on all fours, but now pushed back to Child’s pose on my mattress with my forehead resting on my stacked fists. I know it was a complete purge and although the tears in my eyes were there, I could also tell that I was no longer woozy from the medicine. Out of the corner of my eye I see a hand with a folded toilet paper just waiting for me to take it. I reached for it and said “thank you” to whomever angel was there for me. And then they were gone. There was nothing spoken, there was no judgement, no consoling. The humbling moment of accepting a needed gift I could not have provided for myself is both mystifying and gratifying in the same moment. While I would come to learn that the Shaman and their helpers would be as thankful for each of us doing the hard soul’s work as I would be, in that moment I just felt absolute love, honor, and acceptance. Everybody should have a chance to feel this next level feeling of love.
I raised my head to look in the bucket, to see what it is I had become. With still bleary eyes I saw a dark, dark black oval about 7” across and 4 ½ inched high, and 1 ½” thick. I shook my head, wiped my eyes and looked again. It was solid, looking like the consistency of thick fudge or industrial sludge. I grabbed the bucket with both hands and tilted it away from my mattress. It didn’t move or even jiggle, just a slight amount of black bile moved around the bottom edge of the bucket. I would later come to learn this is sometimes referred to as “Black Sand”, the literally repressed emotions stuffed down for maybe 40 or 50 years. I could have stuck a fork or a candle in it and it would have remained upright. My first thought was, “This looks a Maryland crab” with the front claws stretched out.
On my way to breakfast I glanced down at my wrist and made the connection, black sand and bile were in the same shape as the bamboo bracelet Nowang had helped me acquire in Tibet.
The Second Ceremony.
Shaman – Brad
Intention: If you have shown me who I am, merge me back with my soul at any cost.
I had chosen the same spot in the Maloca. Next to me was Evan from Hawaii.
The process of the first night was repeated. After the obligatory nauseous sensations passed I lay back on my mattress and began my own meditation practice that I came to know during my dance with cancer in 1994-95. Call it psychedelic FOMO (fear of missing out), although incredibly excited and pleased about my experience the night before, I still wanted the sacred geometry and psychedelic light show many of my fellow tribemates had described. Suddenly I realized my arms were up in the air, “hand-dancing” to the music being piped in. The monkey-brain chatter started in my head.
“Was I doing something wrong?”
“Aren’t I worthy?
“Is it something I said?”
“What the fuck are my hands doing?”
Just then, in the upper righthand corner of my mind’s eye, a sparkling diamond-encrusted hashtag (#) sign appeared next to three streaks, a red, blue, and green, like comets shooting across the night sky. In what may have only been 1 or 2 seconds I responded with a smile, figuratively grabbing a big bucket of popcorn so I could enjoy this Dead Head-esque light show. Then…everything disappeared and the room went quiet; a total and absolute black out. The sound of silence was so shockingly loud and depressing.
“C’mon Mother! Where’s the light show?” I implored.
“C’mon, please?” I pleaded.
Clearly, I hear, “Trust me. Be patient. You’re doing the work, you just need to wait your turn.”
I take a deep breath.
“C’mon! you gotta show me something! Anything!”
“C’mon – please! Give me something! At least just show me some leg!”
Suddenly her laugh filled my head as the vision of a Bantu princess in a colorful, traditional dress appeared dancing and laughing. I never saw her facial features, only her dark jawline contrasting with the bright white collar bouncing as she danced. She was moving her arms and shaking her booty and we were both giggling and laughing for what seemed like a couple minutes. It was so much fun!
“It’s time for you to dance. The world is not here to entertain you, you need to co-create. Get up!”
I sat up, put my feet on the floor to steady myself and felt surprisingly nimble and light on my feet. As I turned toward the center space where the alter lay I could see it was a pretty crowded dance floor. As spry and limber as I felt I know my dance moves well enough that I’d likely clod-hop into somebody on the crowded dance floor or bump into the altar, so I went to the side room closest to my mattress and began dancing. I’m surprised at how I could move and as my confidence grew I found my inner-Stevie Nicks swaying and spinning. I raised a hand up toward the ceiling and continued my spin when my eye caught one of my sisters, with her hand up also, dancing toward the side room where I was ‘doin’ my thang’. The thought crossed my mind, “Is she waving to me? Are we speaking telepathically?”
I started to move in her direction when she got to about 10’ away she stopped suddenly put her hands on her knees. As the darkness of night and scant lighting I couldn’t tell for sure but she assumed the position of purging. I shot her a prayer and dance-walked by when Shaman Chris came through the doorway into the room and I said, “I think sister might be purging.” And kept walking back to the center door and out to firepit.
Outside, as I sat marveling at the rich embers and mesmerizing smoke, I looked down at my feet. I just stared at them and realized that I could see the space between each of my toes. The separateness of my toes held my gaze. I giggled, again, as I bobbed-and-wove my way through the hanging branches and leaves and toward the amazingly close proximity and personality of the stars. I thought, “So this is why hippies are the way they are!”
I smiled and raised my eyes to the smoke dancing above the firepit. On the bench directly across from me another one of my sisters was sitting clutching a blanket and a pillow across her chest. I can feel her emotion as she rocked gently fore and aft. Tears began to drop and that evolved into a full-on shameless and healing purging of tears.
I was sending her positive thoughts and celestial hugs across the flames and embers, through the smoke. There’s always a delicate balance between feeling charged and revitalized when empathy let’s you feel another’s angst, and over responding in a way that ends up sucking your energy out. I understand this academically, but always struggle with the question, “Have I done enough to support this person?”
As this acknowledgement rests in my mind, the image of my bride Leigh appears in the smoke and embers above the fire. In her soft voice and warm smile, she says, “It’s Ok to be a good girlfriend. You can be an awesome girlfriend!” (See Note 1.)
“Being a good girlfriend” is our code for “Just listen with love, don’t fix.”
I went back in for the second cup and back to my mattress. Much like my daddy issues I grappled with the previous night, I thought my “mommy issues” had long been resolved through therapy and step work. I was about to find that is not the case.
As mom passed in 2007, her memory is now more in line with Mother Theresa and the other canonized saints. Long forgotten is that she was a very human mother in a very complicated family situation with 4 children and a largely absentee husband. A lot of old stuff popped up and I was able to get to the point of telling my mother I love her, but I no longer wanted those parts of her that no longer served me. There may have been as many tears as there was vomit purged. It was, again, very cathartic and healing. I lay down and slept until the Shaman called for closing ceremony.
Also on this night I started to see visions of people in my life. No communication or context, they just “popped” for a couple seconds, then disappeared. I remember this when I wake up on Wedneday morning and sent a note to my 8th grade girlfriend, Moana Meyers. Moana and I had reconnected in 2010 when my family was out to Hawaii for my dad’s wedding, and again Leigh and I visited for lunch during our 2014 visit.
Also during the night my Maloca neighbor, Evan, who peaks out at about 5’8”, appears at times throughout the ceremony to be a bout 7’ tall. I refer to this persona as “Seven Foot Evan” which truly describes the enormity of his spiritual nature.
Whatever connection Moana and I had in 1973 that made us make-out and slow dance to the second side of “Best of Bread” was still there. We laughed and howled as we talked story for three hours in a Waikiki diner. Although we hadn’t spoken in 7 years, I sent Moana the following note:
My dearest Moana- I am in Costa Rica at a plant medicine retreat, and have completed 2 of 4 ayahuasca ceremonies. A phenomenal experience with amazing healing. You popped up in a vision last night and with no other context than to say hi. It was lovely to see you and want to thank you for being apart of this healing journey. Much love and Aloha!
Hours later she responded with video that she too had just recently participated in an Ayahuasca ceremony and wanted to talk more about our respective journeys when I returned.
I have no idea how to explain this other than the magic of the moon and intelligence of the plant.
The Third Ceremony.
Intention: If I am merged with my soul please heal my heart.
The third ceremony is a celebration of the divine feminine and is led by Shaman Sarah. I am in the same mattress location as the first two ceremonies, this time Sandi from Texas, one of the women who came with her spouse.
The two lines were segregated between men and women. I approach as I had in the previous two ceremonies, first reciting the Third Step Prayer then reiterating my intentions for the ceremony.
I return to my mattress, again the same nausea that passes. I knew I couldn’t trick Mother Aya into giving me the funky light show I was missing out on, but felt the need to be productive; co-creating as it were. Suddenly In my mind I find myself on my knees washing my bride Leigh’s feet. The split screen effect slides into place and now at the same time I am watching from above on the right screen, I am gazing into Leigh’s eyes just two feet away. When I finish, our son Chris is in the chair, followed by daughter Caity. Each person shifting in and out of the chair with such a stark reality and as real as if I’m sitting across the breakfast table sharing warm donuts and a cup of coffee. Then Caity’s husband Pete, then Chris’s bride Lindsey, followed by the four grands, in birth order; Levi, Grace, Nash, Aussie. Everybody was calm and smiling, except for Nash. He was allowing me to wash one foot at a time while he splashed water at me with the opposite foot I was washing. We both giggled. Then my sister Kathleen, my brother Tim, his wife and two children. Following was my youngest brother Boo, his wife and two daughters. Then my father. That completed the living so I moved on to my mother, my maternal grandparents then my father’s adoptive grandparents, then his biological parents whom we had just come to uncover over the past year. I started with Pete and Lindsey’s families of origin.
I then had the notion that Mother Aya wanted me to ask the Shaman for a blessing. I felt fidgety, not able to get comfortable with my aching shoulders. Per protocol, I put my arm up in the air. It seemed forever until someone came over. The medicine definitely had me in ‘thick’ mode as my head was stuck to the mattress. Suddenly a soft voice whispering from behind me, “How can I help you Brother?”
“I need a blessing.”
“Did you want a male or female Shaman to bless you?”
“I don’t know, Mother Aya just said to ask for a blessing.’
“The Shamans are busy right now. Until they can come over I want you to imagine feeling the Shaman holding you in her grasp, whispering her blessing. She will come over here when she can.”
I could feel my self slip into a sleep, a smile spread across my face. I was so relaxed and content; the fidgeting dissolved. Sometime later I awoke and the dancing on the floor as well as my hands above my head had begun again.
Feeling light and refreshed, I went outside and found myself in a hammock looking at my mother in the moon. I took a deep breath and said to her, “I know you’re busy, but I need your attention too!“
I’m not sure where that came from but it came from somewhere deep and brought with it a sigh of relief and a steady stream of quiet tears. It was obviously something I needed to say for a very long time. I had forgotten the pain of just wanting to be a kid with his mom, not appointed ‘Man of the House’ to help mom raise my three younger siblings. This is a role I generally sucked at, and avoided, in so many of my familial relationships. The power of my foot washing exercise came into focus with a newer, deeper meaning. Everything was happening exactly as it should in the time it is supposed to happen.
Shortly I returned to the fire, then took a casual stroll around the facility. Previous nights I had taken on the person of an assigned sentinel protecting the tribe. Tonight, felt like I had transitioned into the Old Guard. Now the retired old guy in the split-screen view I morphed into Sean Connery as I walked around the fire and the Maloca. I wasn’t needed per se, but I still had a shield and sword to bear.
After the second cup I returned to my mattress. The clarity of comments to the Mom/moon and the shame of not helping more with my siblings, or helping my bride with my children danced in my head with the smoke and music, along with the Shaman’s ruffling feathers and jangly bells. Again, self-forgiveness came up for feeling the guilt of not having stepped up better to help Mom, my siblings, my bride and my children more than I did. The washing of the feet of my ancestors and progeny earned their forgiveness, but was I ready to forgive myself?
Cue the vomit.
I wiped my mouth and rolled over, falling into a deep sleep until the closing ceremony was announced.
The Fourth Ceremony.
Shaman – Mitra
Intentions: Continue to heal my heart and show me how I can best serve my family and tribe.
I pick the same mattress location for the fourth consecutive night. Next to me is Seven Foot Evan. On the other side of Evan a third mattress was now placed where Sadif, the whirling dervish raver from the first night.
The fourth ceremony is designed to be an all-nighter. We met at the Maloca at 7:30 PM (as opposed to 5:30 on previous ceremonies) and told it would go until 9:00 AM or so. There’s a group buzz about this brew of Ayahuasca, a Columbian blend with a thick, gooey consistency. All are requested to wear light colored clothing, men are requested to remove their shirts.
Instead of music the first two hours or so are conducted in ‘Noble Silence’. Even though you can hear the myriad of healing sounds throughout, the silence invites us each to focus on where the medicine is taking us and what it is telling us.
Another twist for the fourth night was each one of us was called upon to state our intentions out loud for the group and the Shamans helpers to hear. A proclamation to the universe of what we are playing and praying for.
As the silence continued, prayer danced with my fatigue and I found myself in and out of waking consciousness. My mind flitted over the week; how much I already “knew” but was reorganized and clarified in a useful instructive manner. Also a little disappointed I hadn’t yet seen the psychedelic light show (for more than the 3 seconds on night two), all of the random pop—up supporters from my healing journey over the last 50 years, but no specific direction for each who appeared.
After the presumably two hours passed (time is not really a thing during Ayahuasca ceremonies), the music started to play. And automatically my hands went up and wrists, elbows and fingers interpreted the music into dance moves above my head as I lay back on the mattress.
It struck me that earlier in the week my friend Sister Lori described her hands moving non-stop for 3 ½ hours during ceremony. When she shared this before a class I instinctively said, “Perhaps you’re healing yourself!”
At that moment I realized I was actually conducting surgery on myself; open-heart surgery that is. I proceeded to open my chest pulled out my tired, worn heart and set it aside. I then cupped my hands together and a new, bright pink, pumping heart appeared. I slowly put the new heart into my chest and with my hands, sutured it closed, and gently rubbed up and down my chest until I was healed.
I did not see that coming!
I went outside sat in another hammock and communed with the fire and smoke and stars and mother moon. When the second cup was called I went up, same this time Brad was serving as assistant to Mitra asked “Did you have visions? Did you purge”
“I got a new heart, but did not vomit”. It was hard to get the words out of my mouth even though I could feel, hear, see, smell and yes, taste, everything.
As Brad briefed Mitra on my response I could feel my fear and insecurity rising. I stared intently and starting chanting to myself, “I am worthy. I am worthy. I am worthy.” (Note 2.)
Mitra finished preparing the cup and has he turned to me our eyes locked. As if he could hear what was going on in my head, he replied. “You deserve this! You are doing the good work! You deserve this!”
I got a rush of goosebumps up and down my spine and arms and legs.
I returned to my mattress. Although the thicker Ayahuasca brew/goop was just that, I did not have quite the same level of nausea I had experienced in the first three ceremonies. I rested then went outside for a walk, my inner-Sean Connery just randomly surveying the sacred ceremonial Maloca.
I returned to my mattress. Although I wasn’t feeling terribly queasy, my body told me to return and assume the all-fours position. As the smoke and the music wafted together the thought entered my mind, “Forgive the Unforgivable”.
What? I remembered that was brought up in a class as a potential intention, but I had forgotten about it until that moment.
Then the messages started flowing:
“How dare I ever question Leigh’s love for me?” And I threw up, some.
“How dare I ever question Dad’s love for me?” I threw up some more
“How dare I question Mom’s love for me?” again, I puke.
Finally, I utter, “How dare I ever question the power of Love?”
And a major purge, everything that was in my gut all the way down to the deepest regions came out. I felt strong and powerful and clean and of clear mind. After wiping my face and swishing water in my mouth I spit it in the bucket and lay down.
“How dare you ever question the power of love” was a burning bush moment that feels like I pivoted my being toward some cosmic redemption. Tears gently flowed as I kay on my back listening to the cacophonous symphony of sacred retching all around me. I grabbed a pen and the first notebook I could find to write that down, while tripping, in the dark.
As I lay there I could hear the Shamans working the feathers and chanting to help the brother behind me purge. I raised my head and saw three stars peeking through the window, speaking to me to come outside, presumably to download my specific assignment list of how I can best serve my family and my tribe. Instinctively I raised my finger and said, “I know. I hear you. My brother is doing sacred retching over here and he’s about to feel as good as I do right now, but I need to wait here to hold space for him until he’s done.
I then thought to myself, “Well I’d like to think this is how I’d act, tribe duties first, personal gain after, but I hope they (stars) wait for me to finish here.”
As the brother finished I shot him a prayer, then jumped up off my mattress and walked outside.
All week the stars had been presenting themselves as bright, engaging and close. The first night it was a line of stars near the moon that appeared as my ancestors. Later I would marvel at the beauty of the stars that shone so brightly without light pollution. I knew the psychedelic effect gave me an incredible journey to the closeness of the stars. But nothing could prepare me for what I was about to see.
I walked out of the Malaco and looked up. Startled, I shouted “Whoa!”.
During the week a full starry night could have 10 stars per square foot of visual space. Pretty damn impressive. Tonight – there were a hundred stars per square foot, all bright, all smiling, all singing. Not only was it all ancestors and progeny from the first night, it was also everyone in my tribe and all of their ancestors and progeny. The entire celestial community had come out to reassure me how I could best serve my family and my tribe:
“Just Be. You don’t have to “do” anything. Just be, in love.”
I found a hammock and lay there. A parade of pop-up visions with no descriptions or communication. A keyboard. AA friends. Mentors. High School buddies I haven’t talked to since 1977. Spiritual directors and guides. My Doctors. My therapists. A family vacation/homestead in Costa Rica had appeared earlier in the week, now it was clear it would be planned not by me, but by our children. A visual of me carrying Leigh in my arms, caring for her as she has cared for all the generations of our family since she could walk is riveted to my new heart and soul.
I was exhausted and energized, wired and tired. I went back inside to my mattress as the Shamans were calling people up for a blessing. Half the crowd already had received the blessing, the rest of us were now invited up.
I naturally was drawn to the right side of a semi-circle of pillows on the floor. A pillow opened up near the center and Shaman Sarah directed me to head over there. When I got there, I was told the pillow was already taken, so I returned and Sarah grabbed a pillow and set me on the end. As the four Shamans started on the other side going around the room in a chanting, feathering, rattling, symphony of controlled chaos, one by one they went around the ¾ circle. As they were about a third of the way through I looked at Brother Paco next to me and said, “Look at this!”
I had taken off my bamboo bracelet off and showed him the shape of the bracelet matched the shape the formation of the pillows made. We had previously talked about how patience had come up for me all week with Mother Aya, as well as the full year in advance of my getting to Rythmia.
“I will be the last one blessed, and it will be right on time.” My hands were shaking with a reverential anticipation, acknowledgement, and acceptance. I got my blessing at exactly the right time.
As Mitra and his gang of blessing Shaman arrived I was covered with ointment and spray and feather flapping and sacred chanting. When finished Mitra moved his stool closer to me, leaned in and wrapped his arm around my neck, pulling me in so we were cheek to cheek. I can still feel his beard against the scruff of my 5 day growth as I write this. Then he says, “You have done the hard work my friend. You deserve this!”
It was hard to let go. And in that moment, I realized so much of my impatience arises from a FOMO, the fear of missing out. What the medicine was teaching me was JOMO; the JOY of missing out. The blessing I had asked for earlier in the week had been received at exactly the right time that I needed it. It also struck me that when my Tibetan guide Nowang asked me to tell the Dali Lama about him, he wasn’t talking about the person, he was talking about Love.
When I step back into my critical thinking mind I have all kinds of questions and doubts and suspicions; and FOMO. When I lean into the ineffable bliss of my experiences this week, I am light, I am healing, I am love.
The following day Paco tracked me down at the pool to tell me he had a thought rise up after ceremony. He said, “You are supposed to add ‘Patience’ to your superpowers.”
Ayahuasca didn’t cure me; it gave me clarity.
If you’ve read this far and have interest in learning more, please reach out. I am happy to talk more about my experience with Ayahuasca as well as with Rythmia. (Note 3.) Finally, if you are asking, you are already ready.
- (For context, 8 or 10 years ago while I was downstairs in my office, I heard a loud bang and Leigh’s not-so-soft voice ring out with the beautiful language that would make a sailor blush. I ran upstairs and as I turned the corner she pointed a finger at me and yelled, “I don’t want you do anything except sit there and be like a good girlfriend!” )
- In 1996 my then AA sponsor Joe S. and Iwent to Sunday service at a nearby rehab where the Catholic Priest celebrant changed the liturgy from “I am not worthy” to “I am worthy”.
- Check out reviews of Rythmia’s on Trip Advisor.