My answer to this question was originally posted here on Quora.
The traditional use of ayahuasca is purely as a way to clean the body, and to allow a healer to see in what ways a patient’s body needs cleansing. In fact, for individuals who are clean—-emotionally, physically, and spiritually—the ayahuasca experience may be rather dull or simply equivalent to a daydream. That’s because when the medicine enters a clean individual’s body, it doesnt have a lot to do. It is only for those individuals who have active or overactive minds, tensions, and other ailments that ayahuasca becomes an otherworldly event. This is not necessarily a positive, though, for it is these very conditions which deprive an individual of his or her peace. What ayahuasca does in these situations is a complete rewiring of the brain and a massaging of the body, from chaos to unity, and it is in this process that the individual has the deep, spiritual insights which suddenly connect all the disparate parts of their soul.
However, a trained healer will be able to see what medicine each individual needs, and in my personal experience I would say only about half of the people who seek ayahuasca truly need it for their personal healing. Other individuals may need other master plants such as huachuma or hongos, or may simply need herbs, music, dance, or gentler medicines other than ayahuasca. It is the place of the healer to decide what is best for the individual to arrive back at a place of balance. That is all ayahuasca truly should be used for. If you are seeking spiritual ascension through ayahuasca, she will likely tell you to knock yourself down a few pegs, regain your peace, and be happy right where you’re at.
This essay was written in 2017, days after my first encounter with Ayahuasca.
We sit cross-legged atop our cushions and yoga mats like squatters strewn across the dark, hardwood floor. Five tea candles struggle to light the twenty-six people waiting in silence. A log-cabin’s living room has been converted into a sacred temple, decorated with tapestries, goddesses, chakras, and crystals — a veritable New Age portal where we’ve come to encounter Mother Ayahuasca. After months of reading the trend pieces, watching the documentaries, and clicking on endless YouTube testimonials, I decided I needed to experience this too-good-to-be-true medicine myself, if for no other reason than to put the hype to rest. That, and three months earlier my life entered a place of darkness from which I thought I could never escape. As I watch the shaman stir her brew inside the large ceremonial decanter, I know I have everything and nothing to lose.
Much has been said about ayahuasca, the Amazonian tea known for its healing powers and psychedelic experiences, but much has also been said incorrectly. Historically, ayahuasca — translated as “vine of the soul” — was a one-ingredient decoction, not the two-ingredient mixture we’ve come to know now. The tea was made solely from Baristeriopsis caapi, a boa-like vine containing harmine, an MAOI with subtle psychedelic effects. Indigenous peoples of South America used the brew to provide healing and teaching to their patients, as well as a medium for communicating with other plants. Over time, however, shamans found a particularly potent companion ingredient in Psychotria viridis, a leaf containing the hallucinogen DMT. Together, B. caapi and P. viridis perform a chemical duet of teaching and visions credited with creating life-changing experiences for countless individuals, and it is this particular admixture which has become the de facto standard for ayahuasca ceremonies around the world, including the one I now attend.
I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a bit nervous. The shaman leading the ceremony is a young, sprite, blond woman whose spirit name translates to Dancing Hummingbird Star — but for our purposes I’ll call her Dana since these ceremonies occupy a legal gray area in the United States, and I do not wish to reveal anyone’s true identity. She’s originally from the Northeastern U.S. and has worked with the medicine for nine years, including tutelage under a number of indigenous shamans in South America. Not even thirty, she’s already a widow, and her face exudes a stern command behind its angelic features. As I kneel before her white ceremonial dress I’m unsure what to make of this hippie American practicing a sacred part of Amazonian culture, who claims that all prayers are just a form of saying thank you. For now, however, I don’t ask questions.
With the main event beginning I receive a blow dart’s worth of rapé up my nose, a powdered form of tobacco that immediately relaxes me with a head rush, clearing out my nasal passage of snot. Then at last I receive the ayahuasca itself with its consistency not unlike a rotten bayou’s muddy floor. Chunks of plant life litter the small 25 ml dosage, the taste is that of wheatgrass and bile. Grimacing in front of Dana and her band of helpers and musicians, I throw it back like the first round of shots at a dance club.
I head back to my yoga mat and Dana instructs us to keep our eyes closed and “journey inside ourselves.” I don’t know what this means, but after about forty-five minutes the only journey I’m making is to the bathroom outside our sacred hall.
My body’s not having any of it. I release explosive diarrhea three times over the course of five hours, in addition to a litany of other reactions: vomiting with intense pain into my barf bucket, bawling for no reason, and shivering under waves of icy body temperature decreases. (It doesn’t help that the real temperature outside is a frigid five degrees Fahrenheit and our yoga mats cover the heating vents.) These symptoms are collectively known as the purge — necessary steps believed to rid one’s body of negative energies in preparation for the healing and visions. For all this, however, I’m rewarded with only vague glimpses inside my mind’s eye. For a while I think the entire room is covered in denim. A little later I sense the two dogs I had growing up running towards me to tell me they’re still my friends. Though I will admit, something is happening, I can’t quite tell what it is, and I’ll admit I’m a little disappointed. For one of the participants, however, the night is far more eventful.
Victor, a bulky man with a deep Russian accent sitting across the room, has found himself caught up in a overwhelming ecstasy so intense he cannot stop exclaiming “wow” and “make it stop” for approximately three hours. His booming voice grows louder and louder as the night passes, distracting the rest of us from that elusive “journey inward.” I watch him grow restless. It’s frightening, to be honest. He flails around on the floor like one of those gigantic, inflatable wind tube men you see at a car dealership, pleading to make the visions stop, demanding to know if this new world is permanent. After a while, Dana and her helpers decide to subdue the commotion by feeding him a spoonful of lemon juice. (Citrus and sugar immediately brings one out of the trance state and offer a brief respite of reality.) Sobering up, he says he feels reborn, and I feel relieved, but by the time he’s quieted down, the effects of the brew have vanished inside of me.
The next day our group talks about our adventures inside the medicine, or more accurately, the adventures we wished they had had. A general feeling of disappointment sits in the retreat house as many people begin to wonder why so little had transpired aside from violent nausea. A college-aged guy debates staying or leaving and ultimately decides to bail on the second night of the ceremony for fear that he’d have to sit through another lackluster experience, or another experience like Victor’s. Not having driven up myself I don’t have a choice. I have to stay whether I like it or not.
The day passes with hardly any events, and as the time comes to start the second ceremony that negative mood still permeates the group. I can see it in the way the helpers are holding themselves. Sage and incense are requested to cleanse the air after a number of the male participants question Dana’s skills and credentials. One of them demands to know why we’re starting so late (the previous night’s ceremony commenced at 8pm, while tonight’s doesn’t start until nearly 10). But when at last Dana reveals herself from her meditation, she’s wearing a fire red dress and a warrior’s headband as if to show us she will not tolerate such insolence. “The way you treat the medicine informs me how you treat the Earth, and womanhood itself,” she states. “Are you demanding that the medicine entertain you!? Are you looking to take its gifts without giving in return!? Are you approaching ayahuasca without asking permission to enter her sacred realm!?” With every one of her words, Dana shows that she is the shaman. She has been blessed by the indigenous people to perform these ceremonies in the U.S. and she is in charge. There will be no room for misogyny or debate in her presence.
With the second night’s ceremony beginning we once again receive the refreshing blow dart of rapé tobacco up our nasal passages. It doesn’t hurt as bad as the night before, but this night it’s followed by Sananga, a liquid dropped onto each eye that makes one’s eyeballs burn like voluntarily receiving a dollop of mace. Relaxation and, allegedly, improved vision are said to follow the pain.
It’s not long before my turn comes to receive the cup of ayahuasca. My mind sits differently this time, however, not so much as a tourist as a servant. Maybe it’s the sananga working on my nervous system, maybe Dana’s harsh words, maybe something else. But I pause, kneeling at her alter, and give a silent prayer of thanks for the medicine. Dana holds my cup an extra moment before handing it to me, whistling bird calls into its molecules that echo off the walls. A primal fear enters inside me at the sound.
Within thirty minutes intense geometric visuals have filled my mind’s eye. I can feel it taking over my body, guiding my mind into a trance. I don’t waste any time. I ask the ayahuasca to show me something, anything, and the sensation of my mother immediately fills my soul. I’m amazed at what I’m seeing, what I’m feeling. An intense black pain covers my whole body, filling my mind and my spirit with distress. There’s so much hurting; for my whole life I’ve known my mother has been in pain. I’m hyperventilating. I’m bawling in between huffs for breath. I’m losing control of my tears. The hurt is my mother’s, or it’s her pain that I bear myself. I’m unsure. Seconds later I watch the blackness travel back through time, arriving at my mother’s childhood. It’s where the pain is being sourced. My mind searches for connections, trying to find order, trying to make sense, I gather. I’m seeking a cure for her, and I quickly land on a mantra: “you don’t have to be in pain anymore.” It’s a simple sentence, but when I say the words a tiny pause of relief fills my soul. I bend over my vomit bucket, hugging it like my closest friend. My tears and wailing fill the entire ceremony room, but I’m not thinking about that. I’m chanting the mantra into my vomit bucket, to the pain emanating from my mother’s inner child. “You don’t have to be in pain anymore,” I tell her. “You don’t have to be in pain anymore.” Maybe a hundred times I say it, until finally the pain dissipates. The blackness leaves. I sit up, sending the negative energy to the central alter without thinking. A second later I’ve purged the entire first cup into my bucket.
When I raise my head, I smile and laugh. Dana is dancing in circles of fire, not inside the ceremonial hall, but on a cloud of pure white electricity. She swirls like a goddess, red and golden beams radiating from her being like something out of a vibrant Japanese tapestry. She’s spinning and hopping in time with the pulse of the drum and the guitar pounding out the sacred icaros, the songs guiding us on our journeys. I overhear one of the helpers note how much healing I’ve completed. Overjoyed, I ask ayahuasca to show me something about my dad.
I’m expecting an encounter similar to that with my mother, but this time the medicine shows me something completely different. A desert planet appears in my vision and pyramid-like temples rise out of its surface as if inspired by the Game of Thrones intro. The vision expands outward until the entire universe is contained inside a single egg. It’s not much, but inexplicably I know what ayahuasca is trying to say. My true father is not my biological dad, but Time itself, the mystery of what happens after it’s all gone. He gazes in from outside the cosmic membrane, but he’s unable to pass through in this state of existence. I can see Time’s nose, lips and eyes warping the fabric of space. It’s who awaits us beyond the bounds of this universe, and only in death, ayahuasca tells me, will I ever see my true father.
Although profound, the message is comical, too. (Many of the participants will later comment on ayahuasca’s impeccable sense of humor.) I’ve long viewed my relationship with my father as a field of landmines waiting to explode, but ayahuasca insists there’s nothing we need to go over. It’s not my biological father, but my cosmic father I need to stay focused on. Though I’m a little unclear on the details, the permission to release my dad from my mind liberates an amount of tension inside me as well.
Meanwhile back in reality, it’s about two hours after the first cup, and the shaman’s assistant Jacob is praying over a pitcher of cleansing water for the group. He’s a taut, muscular, late twentysomething with a man bun, but he’s caught up in the spirit just like the rest of us. (The single rule of the night is that every person in attendance must consume a cup of the brew.) It takes him about twenty minutes to list every positive trait of water, but I don’t mind. I’m so elated every word feels like a poem.
When at last he finishes, I hurry to the alter to request a second cup from Dana, something she seems hesitant to provide. I know I’ve been rather loud in my wailing, but I smile and tell her I feel great. I want to go back in that alternate world and do more. She reiterates that I’ll be continuing the work I’ve already begun — the medicine compounds in strength with each successive cup. It’s a subtle warning that I will likely return to a place of painful healing, but it’s what I want to do. Blessing the second cup with another prayer, I give it deference before drinking it and returning to my seat.
It’s not long before the kaleidoscopic visions dazzle my eyes once more. I don’t know what they mean, but they don’t last long. In their place a new sensation takes hold, an energy that seizes my stomach like someone attaching jumper cables to the top end of my intestines. Two small imps walk toward me, pointing to my stomach with a pair of spears. “This is where we keep our struggles!” they say with a laugh. But the electricity is in no way a hallucination; I can feel my stomach collapsing in on itself. Then the tension moves upward, taking hold of my chest, my shoulders, my neck. I feel it entering my mind, and all of a sudden I understand what a near death experience feels like. My consciousness is losing its grip on my being. Thoughts aren’t responding as I command them. My muscles are ignoring my mind, not listening to anything I want them to do. With all my energy I turn back to Jacob sitting two yoga mats down and try to get his attention. What comes out sounds closer to a dying whale’s mating call. I lift my arms and at last he comes over to ask me what I need. With all the energy I can muster I mumble “too much.” “Congratulations, brother!” he says with a wide, Heaven’s Gate grin. “Enjoy the moment. Let it go inward and surrender!” I sway left and right before collapsing on my vomit bucket. I try to surrender. Really. I breathe as slow and relaxed as I can, but my mind trucks onward toward a pure white oblivion, and my fight or flight instincts kick in, desperately trying to make it stop. I struggle, keeping the emptiness from overtaking my whole head when I fling my head upwards. Jacob is still there looking at me. It feels like an hour ago since I last talked to him. How long have I been here? Where even am I? I shake my head “no” in response to something I feel he asked. So he sits behind me on my mat and starts pressing his palms into my back. Instantly energy leaves my body — negative, positive, I don’t know — but I’m shaking so furiously it feels a mix between the most violent goosebumps you can ever experience paired with an equally potent orgasm. The whiteness in my mind passes, though. I take a breath and say “thank you,” something I’ll be saying many, many more times that night, though not always to something human.
He returns to his mat, and with a new lease on life, I’m hurdled into a new plane of existence, a universe of mazes constructed in expanding hexagonal fractals, with the walls made up of words. It fills my entire third eye’s vision, but as I try to discern what the words say, I quickly realize they’re completely unintelligible. They’re blurry and foreign. Zooming in with my mind is pointless; they don’t get any clearer. In a second the whole universe wipes away from my vision like swiping a tablet, and an equally complex maze takes its place. Once again I try to understand what the words are saying — easily numbering an entire dictionary’s worth of words — but I can’t make any sense. I try to enter the maze, but I can’t find the beginning. It taunts and provokes me. Here I am, a writer, seeing a vision of words and I can’t even read them! And as if sensing my emotions, which surely it is, the vision begins to decompose. The words dematerialize into snowy static electricity. The order of the maze gives way to pure chaos. I’m beyond frustrated, and the frustration itself becomes the vision. My body collapses on my bucket once more, and a funny thing Dana said us enters my mind. All prayers are simply a form of saying thank you.
Vito ACCONCI — City of Words, 2010
The truism sounds silly and childish, but it becomes the single most powerful tool of the night, if not the single most powerful piece of life guidance I receive from the entire retreat. I’m crying, heaving, shaking when I mutter “thank you” into the chaos consuming my mind. Instantly, a moment of peace fills my soul. It vanishes a second later, but still, it’s a start. The disarray takes over my mind once more, but again I say thank you. Why? I have no idea. To whom? Nothing in particular. I thank myself, reality, the universe, and somehow I say it with conviction as well. I don’t care who you are or what you believe, but when you’re on the brink of losing your mind, the universe becomes the most precious place you’ve ever lived.
Comfort washes over me in split second intervals with each utterance of gratitude I can manage, and in doing so something else completely different begins to emerge. My arms and my chest are wanting to move. They want to be free. As I say thank you, my muscles fling left and right. My torso contorts and twists. My neck and my back are jack knifing, and even though I know I must look like something from The Exorcist or The OA, I can tell it’s a dance in the spirit I’ve been wanting to do for so long.
My body is out of my own control now. I’m whispering thank you to the spirits occupying my muscles. I can’t see them, but they’re moving me like a lifeless marionette and I’m exhaling pure ecstasy as I let them talk through me. I’m swaying and falling. I’m being lifted up and made to bow over and over to the floor as if beckoning the coming sun, only hours away from dawn. My shoulders roll and crack. My jaw expands so wide I think it might break. I feel the spirit of a snake roiling up my spine, curling and straightening as it winds its way to my head. Somehow I’m not afraid of these spirits, these energies, these companions. I know I’m being caught up by forces I can neither see nor comprehend, but their dark nature feels so necessary. For all my life I thought demonic possession would rank up as one of the most frightening occurrences I could ever experience, but now my thoughts have changed. I can undoubtedly feel something possessing my spirit, but they’re bulldozers of the soul, demolishing me in ways I desperately need to be demolished, and though the experience is not fun, it’s essential.
I’ve never stopped saying thank you through all of this, and I start to realize the statement is drawing the energies into my body. Far from being the Victor of the second night, I spend four hours welcoming these forces as they slip into my muscles, jostling me in ways I’ve never moved. Somewhere in that nexus between the spiritual world and my physical form, a transformation is taking place. The negative energy is being grounded by my bones, and when I feel it sufficiently processed I send it on its way to the glowing alter in the center of the room.
Jacob has begun to wail and moan, and just hearing him, I’m once again caught up in this uncontrollable, unpleasant dance. I hum and moan, saying thank you without end. Something inside of me feels Jacob and I have connected on the same wavelength, perhaps since the moment when he came over to my aid. I’m bearing some of his pain and processing it through my vessel. As I release a strong wave of energy I laugh out loud in catharsis. Jacob hears me, turning his tears into chuckles. The next day he would tell me my laughter helped him get through the night.
The ceremony continues on like this for nearly three more hours. I’m completely at the whim of spirits I can’t see while most of the room has fallen asleep. Why I’m still awake, moving with the spirits? Then the answer hits me. I, along with Dana, Jacob, and her helpers, am keeping my peers safe as they journey through their dreams. I’m taking the negative energies and processing them through my body, an empty chamber where the spirits could carry out the conversions needing to take place. I don’t know how I know this, but settling into that truth provides me a sense of absolute divine peace.
In that moment I had become a healer. A guardianship activated inside of me, fueled by gratitude, which allowed normally unwelcome spirits inside of my body that I might process them and set them free. The maze of words suddenly made sense, at least in part. It was my body, not my mind, that needed to be touched by the spirits. For so long I had been neglecting and harming my own body. I had broken all channels of communication between it and my mind. Ayahuasca had prioritized what what I needed to work on first, not what I wanted.
As the fervor fades away, I can still feel my body drawn to this energetic dance — and I still feel it, in fact, three days after the ceremony has ended. A serene calm comes over me with long, deep breaths as I recline out of my cross-legged pose for the first time in six hours. The sun rises behind me and I’ve never witnessed a more joyful dawn. I lean back onto my mat and lay my hands on my chest, on my arms, on my shoulders, on my stomach, repeating the lesson I had taught to my mother: “you don’t have to be in pain anymore.” The energy rolls off my skin as I sent it to the alter. “Thank you,” I whisper.
Journeying through that night with ayahuasca is without a doubt the most incredible, mystical odyssey I’ve ever experienced. I learned to let spirits inside me and move me in ways I’ve never known. I cried and cried through the rest of the day. A spiritual, mental and physical massage was what the shaman ordered. I didn’t think the medicine would get me to change my views on the potential for a spirit world, but it certainly has. Sure, the whole experience could be explained in neurological terms, a short circuit in the wiring of my brain, but why? What then is reality itself? Couldn’t our own consciousness simply be called a magnificent short circuit of reality? In my recollection, the experience of ayahuasca deserves to be enshrined in something more sacred.
I see no reason not to accept that this heightened state of consciousness occurs on a different plane of reality, where energy and spirits and intentions overrule our known materialistic universe. What harm does it cause to label this plant medicine-induced, alternate dimension, as a spiritual experience? Something undoubtedly acted upon me that night, whether it be my own mind or the spirits in the room. Either way I was not in control. I was at the mercy and grace of something I could never have experienced otherwise. And if that isn’t the definition of a spiritual experience, I don’t know what is.
Have you ever wondered why ancient cultures and religions so willingly believed that everything was created from nothing? Whether we’re talking about the Tao (which existed eternally) or God (which also existed eternally) or any other fundamental creation force, there was an acceptance that that force just always WAS, IS, and WILL BE, i.e. it didn’t follow the rules of causality. In the modern era, it seems so primitive to accept this unquestioningly. As a result, many of us — myself included — get stuck in the question of the chicken and the egg. If God created the universe, who created God? What created the Big Bang? Looking back on those ancient cultures, we conclude it’s our superior intellect which necessitates this line of questioning, they simply were too simple to contemplate such mysteries.
But what if it was not our modern intellect that birthed this unanswerable riddle, but rather, the destruction of an ancient part of ourselves which held the answer? An investigation into our ancestors’ beliefs is in order.
When we look at creation myths themes of darkness, the void, the ocean, the ground, and space abound, all being the fertile fabric out of which all other things are formed. There is often a conscious — or perhaps “metaconscious” — entity which is able to interact together with this darkness to create all of the universe.
The first of Genesis’s two creation stories has the Spirit of God hovering over the waters when he calls light out of the darkness. Yin and Yang are the two fundamental expressions of the Tao, who together give rise to life’s complexity. Chronos and Ananke in Greek mythology represent Time and Force respectively, together creating the cosmos. Many other stories exist of the creation of complexity rising out of simplicity.
But where did these stories come from? Just like our chicken and egg question of creation itself, we can ask ourselves what created these unified creation stories across global cultures. In a twist of events, could these stories themselves hold an answer to the question of creation itself? If the stories come out of an emergent-based pattern, the answer is inevitable.
Emergent theory, simply put, is the belief that complexity rises out of a complexity similar to itself, but at a smaller scale. One of the best examples of emergent theory to visualize is the snowflake. We’re all familiar with the classic six-pointed stars of wintertime decorations, but have you ever wondered why snowflakes are formed so similarly, yet so unique? The answer lies in their six-pointed geometry; it is exactly reminiscent of the six-pointed pattern formed when water molecules freeze and combine to form ice.
As more water molecules freeze and combine they aggregate or “emerge” on that initial geometry, expanding outward, forming unique traits from one another along the way, yet always maintaining their underlying formation — in all definitions of that word. So could the creation myths of old all be little snowflakes?
Arising so similarly, yet with unique traits, it seems conceivable that the creation myths were also built upon a unique “seed,” like the frozen water molecule, to result in a variety of similar narratives. And just like the snowflake we can theorize what that seed was, i.e. the lower level complexity, by simply looking at what manifests at the higher levels of complexity.
We know that the seed the creation myths are built upon must be a universal human experience separate from culture, politics, or environment, since the similarities occur globally. This would include a set of things like birth, eating, breathing, walking, sleeping, sex, living, and death, among others. We also know that the themes stated above of darkness, the void, the ocean, the ground, and space must somehow be connected to the seed since, like the six-pointed figure of the snowflake, they are the repeating patterns across stories.
Together, this reasoning would limit the potential universal human experience to birth, sleeping, sex, and death since these events occur in the darkness of the womb, night, or grave. We can see the influence of sex through the combining of consorts during creation, but birth and death wouldn’t likely be a germinating source for these stories since no memories form as these events transpire. Sleeping, however, serves as a useful metaphor for death and birth, as we turn off our brains only to turn them on the next morning. And, importantly, it is also the time when our minds experience dreams. It is here where I believe the true seed lay at the heart of the ancient creation myths.
Dreams and dreamtime contain all the characteristics of mythic creation and would have served as a nightly experience to these ancient cultures, providing a logical basis for the riddle of creation. Dreams occur during sleep — a time of darkness, lifelessness, and the ground (since most ancient cultures slept directly on the dirt).They give visions, worlds, ideas, forms, emotions, and experiences to the dreamers where there should be none — seemingly out of nothing. They even, when cultivated, impacted directly on waking life in the form of divination, prophecy, warning, or preparation, thus transcending from the realm of hallucination and into manifestation. In short, when faced with the question of “where did we all come from?” ancient people weren’t avoiding the chicken and egg riddle, they already had a sufficient answer in the creative power of dreams.
What do we do with this idea that dreams helped ancient people handle the creation mystery? It’s so easy to say with our modern minds that dreams are just fanciful meanderings which fundamentally don’t mean anything. It’s inconceivable that they could hold any intrinsic value. And yet, it’s that mindset (or, perhaps, mindcollapse) that’s inducing the unanswerable chicken-and-egg paradox we struggle with in the first place. It turns out emergent theory has more to say on the topic.
If the globally similar, something-out-of-nothing creation myths emerged as a more complex reflection of the something-out-of-nothingness essence of dreams, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to theorize that the something-out-of-nothing essence of dreams would have emerged from an even more fundamental seed, i.e. the something-out-of-nothing nature of creation itself? If this were the case, we would see that dreams not only provide an everyday band-aid to the struggle caused by the chicken and the egg paradox of creation, since we are given a nightly example of how something can arise out of nothing, but dreams themselves would point to the solution altogether. Some scientists are beginning to believe that is exactly the case.
Matter, when arranged in careful patterns, produces humans which are conscious beings. This is a basic tenet of materialism, the belief that consciousness has arisen as a characteristic of the physical world. However, where do these patterns come from? Where do the forces of nature come from to combine quarks into atoms, into molecules, into cells, into us? Whether coming from a religious or scientific background, within seconds we arrive at that classic mystery of the universe. Some force, some pattern had to exist which arranged it into order, right? Chicken and the egg? So where do we go now? Or more pertinently to this thought process, can dreams somehow be a missing link?
If we begin to connect the dots of our emergent theory fractal we can begin to answer the question. In Christian tradition, the six days of creation, when tracked backwards, lead to a time of darkness where the Spirit of God hovered over the waters and called everything to life. In Taoist tradition, the complexity of life when tracked backwards leads to yin and yang, together arising from the Tao which is the source of all life. In regards to our own consciousness, when the brain slows down from the workings of its day into its natural trance state, it conjures up our dream world.
So what about the universe? Its current physical complexity is analogous to Life in the creation myths, and if we track backwards to the Big Bang we arrive at the patterning forces of nature (i.e. gravity, strong, weak, and electromagnetic forces) being analogous to the voice of the God. Is it that crazy to think, that just like our own consciousness cycle, there was a point in the beginning where matter and forces existed so simply, devoid of complexity, that together they chose to create their own complexity? Stay with me for a second.
It sounds counter-intuitive, but think about it. If we could turn the clock backwards and get back to a place of simplicity where the rules of causality (a.k.a. duality) didn’t apply due to simplicity, where no cells had merged, no molecules had bonded, and no atoms structured, the chaos of the universe would not have any causality inside of it, meaning it would not be bound by causality’s rules. Then, without the binds of causality, its own existence could be consistent with the rules of causality in the universe, i.e. that there are none. From there it could produce causality/duality whenever it felt like it.
The problem with this thought experiment is that we can’t go back in time, but what if we could arrive at this chaos/simplicity in the future? Are there machines which can undo the patterns of nature back so intrinsically that it looks like they were never touched by nature at all? In fact, yes, there are. Black holes stretch everything in their cores so far apart that infinity and eternity exist in their centers. Light itself doesn’t escape not because it’s trapped but because the fabric of space, on a planck-by-planck level, is too far for it cross. In addition, the two leading theories for the end of the universe are a “Big Crunch,” or a big stretch, both of which would return either all or at least a part of the universe back to its “Big Bang” conditions. Thus, if our own universe contains within it the means for reverting its own complexity (not coincidentally in forms of darkness), then we have all the means for understanding the creation of the universe just as we understand the birth of our own consciousness every morning.
The universe has had, at all times, the means to both make itself more complex and more simple. It has had, at all times, the means to create duality/causality, and to unify it. Complexity, when taken to its extreme resembles both simplicity and chaos just as the end of our days result in sleep and dreams. In fact, we can even show this with the chicken and egg paradox itself! If chickens and eggs were produced ad infinitum, filling every square inch of the planet, they would produce so many eggs and so many chickens that the result would be a chaos of carnage from which life, and in turn, chickens and eggs, would be formed. The paradox is the answer to the paradox.
And so I return to the ancient peoples who didn’t wrestle with chickens and eggs. They simply knew that, like dreams, somethingness can arise out of nothingness when complexity peaks and ultimately is removed. So what about us moderns? Why don’t we get this? Perhaps it’s not because we are superior thinkers, but because we’re inferior dreamers. We’ve broken that emergent, fractal chain of information which so clearly taught us the creation of the universe. The University of California Santa Cruz says “It seems likely that all of us forget 95–99% of our dreams for the very ordinary reason that we sleep right through them and aren’t paying attention to remembering anything.” We aren’t paying attention to remembering anything and as a result we not only have forgotten our dreams, we have forgotten our universe.
Slow down your minds. Slow down your thoughts. Make an effort to increase the mindful moments of your day by decreasing its complexity, and watch your dream life blossom. There are many ways to increase your dream activity. With any amount of effort (or, in this case, relaxation) you can go from dreaming once a month to dreaming once every hour at night. Watch and listen to your dreams and see how they produce new worlds for you to inhabit both at night, and over time, during the day. It doesn’t take long to believe that like our minds, the universe can create itself once it slows itself down too.
This essay was originally published on December 18, 2018
Integration after an extended master plant dieta requires an amount of patience and diligence that few other life events call for. At least that’s what I’m quickly learning days before Christmas, as I sit in my parent’s basement, which has become something akin to a recovery shelter for me. I wanted to write about my experience integrating so far, both as a mile-marker for myself to look back on, and also as a guidepost for those who may be curious how the integration process looks like for other people who completed extended, intensive dietas.
It’s been a week now since I returned back home to Vancouver, WA, after eight and a half months in the Amazon jungle. I dieted and apprenticed under renowned healer Maestra Estela Pangoza Sinacay (above) at her healing center, Aya Madre, learning the Shipibo plant medicine traditions around Ayahuasca and Master Plant Dieting, in addition to guided explorations of other medicines such as the cactus Huachuma (San Pedro)and Cubensis mushrooms, among others. My apprenticeship and the healing I received were extremely powerful, culminating days before I left in an experience some would describe as a Kundalini awakening. I was not familiar with this term prior to a couple weeks ago, my spiritual practice and vocabulary being couched primarily in Shipibo plant medicine and various other forms of shamanism. After experiencing uninterrupted visions throughout my days without the aid of plant medicine, loud incessant voices, severe headaches, intense bodily trembling, and uncontrollable bouts of crying, however, I found that what I was experiencing was something common to deep spiritual experiences. I plan on writing about this experience in detail when it fully ends (the effects come and go even now as I write this), as well as many other experiences during my dieta, but for now I’m focused on my present task of integration, a task that is daunting enough.
My time at Aya Madre seems so distant — a blurry dream that I’m not sure actually transpired — and the process of coming back into the United States culture has been unusual to say the least. I’m thankful for the reminders my dieta provides me throughout the day, little whispers and knowings helping me navigate this new, unfamiliar world. I can feel my dieta helping me solidify my reality and my strength. My dreams give comfort as well, replaying my journey with the plants like old family videos during the night so I can wake up knowing who I am, knowing the strength of my dieta.
As I go through my days here with my family and their everyday struggles, flags and indicators arise telling me something is wrong. “Don’t attach,” my dieta seems to say. “Look and feel, but this isn’t your trauma anymore.” A number of times I have to excuse myself or ask for silence, so I can re-ground myself in my body and my truth. While it may not be socially normal, I often don’t have a choice. If I had to summarize these early stages of integration into two words, they would be opaque and unsteady. I see a TV commercial and begin weeping. I talk with my friend too long and I enter a panic attack. Thankfully I have experience now working in unusual realities. So I go inward again, no plants, just on my own, and make sure my core is secure and safe, that my truth is being guarded, that nothing is taking me away from my strength and peace.
I feel tuggings at times, pulling me away from my center, and I understand now the “tests of the dieta.” The distractions most commonly come from food. Maestra Estela told me that would be the case, food tempting me first before women and friends. I can’t say that I have been perfect with my eating habits — over the course of a couple days I’ve eaten far too many holiday treats. Ending a dieta and returning during the holiday season might not have been the most intelligent plan. Thankfully my body screams back at me in protest with sensed feelings of disgust and disempowerment, letting me know I can’t go down that path. I wake up each day now and immediately have oatmeal, eggs, potatoes, brown rice and other foods low in glycemic index and high in satiety as my protection against overeating and reckless behavior. Tobacco’s call to help me with my eating is there, too. We had a conversation before I left, however, and I let him know our relationship commonly moves into unhealthy dynamics, so I feel comfortable on my own now, working through the cravings and distractions with methods other than tobacco/mapacho.
Having completed such a long dieta and coming back into American culture, it feels like being dropped into an unknown universe without a compass. Thankfully my dieta helps me again. I look around and see individuals on the street and on TV in new ways. I understand what they’re going through and where their problems come from. There’s a pull there, sure, a pull into the darkness of their uncenteredness, but then the voice of my dieta tells me I don’t have to accept what’s around me as my own . There’s all this talk of a “government shutdown,” like the collective conscious screaming to let the collective Ego take a break and have Spirit return to their lives. The American crisis du jour doesn’t come from any single person; it never does. It’s the concrete, the skyscrapers, the internet (yes, even as I use it to distribute this message). It’s the separation from others, from nature, from our roots. Hearing that the government is shutting down reminds me of the many times my mind shut down during my dieta, when I simply had to stop relying on the illusion my mind had created and reach out into the spirit world. “This isn’t my life!” our souls cry out. “Stop giving all control to the mind!” We simply cannot keep going when we spend so much time away from Spirit, in the darkness. Perhaps Americans will realize that the government — whether democrats or republicans — were never there to live our lives for us. Like the mind, the government can only do so much, and Mother Earth is waiting for us to come back to her, just like each one of our soul’s longs to fly free.
Yet as I contemplate all this I am met with the reality that it is not my duty to wake anyone up out of the darkness myself, and to try to do so now, in such a vulnerable state, would not benefit anyone. So I do my best to simply shine my light, even with all the craziness of this reality swirling around me. “There’s another way,” I try to communicate with my heart. And maybe I shine imperfectly, but I shine the best I can. Maybe I don’t have all the answers now, but I have all the desire to listen. After learning and seeing the power of simply loving others in and out of ceremony; after developing my own healing capabilities solely through meditation on the light, I know that for right now, that’s is all I need to do.
I have a long way to go on my integration path, yet I’m happy and excited to see what the medicine has in store for me. Whether that be developing my healing skills and working with others, rekindling my old passion for writing fiction, or something else entirely new, I know that I’m going to be perfectly fine because I have everything I need right now. Me and my dieta. Me and my light.