(There are several new posts in a row, so be sure to read down until you are caught up.)
Time flies here. Everyone came to breakfast late and we sleepily began to share the details our our last night´s experience at the Ayahuasca (Aya-wasca) Ceremony. Everyone who had done this before said that the herbal ayahuasca drink was milder than usual and most didn´t get any reaction until their second drink. However, I had a very satisfactory vision quest on my first amount. Let me describe the entire evening:
Six of us left Paz y Luz at 6:30 p.m. to walk along the dirt road beside the riverbank into the small town of Pisac. It´s at least a mile, maybe more. With me were my friend, Dana, whom I had met in Peru Home Hostel in Lima, and who had told me about the Ayahuasca ceremony and Paz y Luz Center; Ramya, a French woman from Canada, who is an Osho devotee; Ashera, here to lead an institute in traditional healing with a group arriving soon from America; Shannon, a 22-year-old from North Carolina, just finishing her exploration of South America. Leading us to the shaman´s house was Gray Jeffery, resident manager of Paz y Luz, from California, who in mid-life, left behind his five-star business school training and a Silicon Valley profession, to become a healer, shaman and medicine man. He was to be the co-leader of our ceremony.
It was almost dark when we reached the steep and craggy incline to Eduardo´s simple house across the river. Part of this challenging route had cement molded stairsteps, or merely stones, but some places were covered with a slippery skree and a very difficult footing. The thought again occurred to me that I was now doing all the Inca Trail that I could stand (thank you very much) and excusing myself from even thinking of four day´s worth of this uphill punishment. It was exactly the conclusion that I had come to while climbing Cotopaxi Volcano near Quito.
Puffing at the top, we stood on the shaman´s cement slab front porch and were greeted by his wife and two daughters. Our ceremony was to take place in their large one-room downstairs main room, one end of which was covered with many colorful woven Peruvian rugs and carpets. The sparse furniture had been pushed to the other end of the room. Plenty of wonderful heavy alpaca blankets were folded around the edges of the room – one for each of us to sit upon, and one to use as a backrest against the wall. A single light bulb hung from the ceiling powered by the generator chugging just beside the front door within the same shed which was to be used as our bathroom. “Just use the dirt floor and toss the paper there also.”
The Ayahuascero, Eduardo, the shaman trained to guide the ceremony, greeted each of us with warm and genuine hugs of welcome and invited us to pick a seat on either side of the room while he and Gray set up their materials, a candle, a drum and a gong, along the wall at the end. We got cozy on our folded blankets, wrapping ourselves in our sleeping bags or shawls brought for warmth, in case we became cold as the night wore on in the unheated house. Water bottles were handy beside us although we wouldn´t drink from them until after the ceremony. Our shoes had been left over by the table and we had to remember where they were in case we wanted to excuse ourselves to use the shed.
For the first half-hour or so, we simply settled in, talking companionably and casually being informed about the ceremony and the large handful of coca leaves set upon a mat before each of us, as well as our little white bucket which we must keep handy in case of nausea. Ayahuasca is a cleansing as well as a vision quest ceremony and it is common, nay, very, very desirable for nausea and vomiting to occur as the toxins become expelled from the body. Having gone through a year of medically-supervised toxic cleansing at home, in preparation for this trip, I could well appreciate the value of a well-timed heave.
Our stomachs were as empty as possible, though I had taken a bowl of quinoa soup and flat bread to control the shakes, but my body was as prepared as well as possible for the best that this ceremony had to offer. The cleansing aspects, though surely needed in the midst if my present shingles attack, was secondary to the desire to return to the familiar trance state and out-of-body flying that had characterized my spiritual awakening fourteen years ago. That phase has now quieted to occur simply as a regular part of dreaming, and I was eager to see if the herbs of the ayahuasca could return that precious state to me on an at-will basis. Though at-will is not really the case, because this was a rare opportunity not likely to return again. I seem to be immune to hypnosis, so I wasn´t even sure that there would be any result. This chance didn´t come cheap, as each of the five of us women paid $70 for the special ceremony.
Eduardo was dressed in a large pullover caftan and wore several necklaces, one of which might have been puma teeth. On his head was a red Peruvian Andean woven hat with peak and ear flaps that tie under the chin. He looked quite regal, actually, and very appropriate for his role. Though he spoke Spanish and Quechua, he was very approachable and interested and outgoing to all of us. Gray served as translator as well as assistant, explaining each step of the way.
First, we were shown what to do with our coca leaves. We were to select three, a large, medium and small, into little piles and then to circulate around to everyone, giving sets to each in the room, along with a blessing and response in Quechua, which we naturally stumbled over but managed an approximation. When we received a set, we folded it and tucked it into our cheek. This gifting of the sacred leaf bonded our little group and reminded me of the common church practice of circulating with a hug or a handshake, murmuring greetings. Soon, our cheeks bulged with leaf and we naturally began to chew and swallow, spitting the pulp into our bucket. This caused a temporary numbness in the mouth and prepared our system for the herbal concoction that we were about to receive.
The ayahuasca juice, the color of apricot, was contained in a large one-litre plastic bottle. It fizzed a bit when Eduardo opened it after shaking. One by one, each of us came before him and accepted the small, 5 oz. tumbler of the potent drink. We needed to chug-a-lug it because the taste was rather bitter, but not all that bad. Then, we returned to our spot against the wall for more companionable quiet conversation while waiting for the medicine to kick in. Soon, the generator powering the lightbulb was turned off and a single candle lighted. After a few moments, I began to wonder if this would work. Nothing seemed to be happening inside of me; certainly not the buzz that I would have felt by then if that had been a tumbler of wine consumed so rapidly. Eduardo began to drum and sing a chant to Ayahuasca, about whom I am not at all informed and wasn´t even including in my thoughts as I observed what was not going on inside of my head.
Soon, the candle was pinched out and we sat with eyes closed concentrating innerly, while the shaman chanted and softly played the drum, a really beautiful sound which began to pull and move my mind. Later, Gray played a large gong in a very musical fashion, reverberating tones in ever-expanding waves, not just gong-gong-gong, such as the type to silence a crowd or announce the arrival of a king.
Without even noticing the interface, because it was as natural as the beginning of a dream, my trance began. I didn´t soar about, as I was hoping to do, but I was shown scenes which came to me, one by one. Once I was observing a scene, I could enter it slightly by sort of moving past the facade for a closer look, but mostly, it was like being in a movie theater with a close up screen. This happens a great deal in my dreams so the process was completely familiar. At the same time, I was totally present and aware of myself in the room; of the presence and actions of the others, as used to be true during my natural trances.
Though you are completely cognizant, you choose to remain focused innerly, but you are also using a very alert and businesslike side of your mind to catalogue and remember the sequence of what is happening, as well as a limited amount of reasoning process to discover, or work out, the meaning of what you are seeing. “Limited” because too much of that can interfere with what is being shown to you. You don´t want that logical self to get in the way. I am, by now, expert at this, as I have needed to practice this balance during most of my nights, as dreams and conversations come and go and I cannot/will not get up to write them down. I must mentally store them until my morning journaling session with that first cup of coffee. At least, that´s my home routine; shot to pieces out here on the road.
Anyway, I had a great Vision Quest story, which had a beginning, a middle, and an end. I saw it clearly and now remember totally each picture shown me. Then, when the episode concluded, my trance ended, just like that, though I still sat in a relaxed, dreamy state of mind. I no longer felt the effect of the herb. However, there is an unpleasant side-effect of the toxic-expelling process and several times, I reached for my bucket and brought up some dark liquid from way down deep. That momentary wretching is not much fun, but is over quickly and is considered a most fortunate and beneficial side of the healing ceremony and proof that it is working optimally. I do believe that my shingles are disappearing as a result.
As the chanting continued during my relaxed aftermath state, I felt my head being manipulated on the limp stalk of my neck, gently rolling from side to side, and around about in time to the drumming and the chant. I allowed it to happen but did not initiate this. Perhaps, it was something the shaman was doing remotely, but it was a good, benevolent, mild and fun thing to feel happening.
At no time, was there any comparison with drunkenness. I can´t say how this compares with drug use, having no experience, but I do know that I was always in control and if I had chosen to step out of the process, I could easily have done so. In fact, I did at one time get up, locate my shoes in the dark and step out to the generator room. Perfectly easy to accomplish without even the benefit of a flashlight. Then, it was easy to return to the process again.
It seemed very late at night by the time the herb wore off and I soon became restless to leave and tuck into my warm and very comfortable bed, so long overdue. My butt was numb; I was chilly and very, very sleepy. But, the easygoing ceremony wasn´t only for me and most of the others, as I learned later, were just beginning their exploration of consciousness with the second dose. As I also learned later, they were feeling very uncomfortable with nausea, gas, stomach bloating, dry heaving and various aches and pains much greater than mine. But, we all weathered these side effects stoically, knowing that something was occurring within, both spiritually and physically.
At last, we gathered our belongings just as a misty rain came along with a little bit of wind. We had a long, dark walk home and it would be good to beat the rain, especially in descending the perilous stairs, rocks and mudslide area leaving the shaman´s home. Two little flashlights and lots of extended hands got us safely down and herded through a gauntlet of junkyard dogs to the straight path through the sleeping town and down our rural road, hoping to avoid a number of cow, dog, and pig patties which waited, like landmines, for our blind step. It was 12:30 in the morning.
(Stay tuned. Tomorrow I will describe my wonderful gift of a Vision.)