short summary of my ayahuasca experience
At the beginning of the global Covid lockdown I got trapped in the Amazon Rainforest under the care of three Peruvian shamans. I had booked two weeks at their center outside of Iquitos and ended up stuck there three months because borders closed and Iquitos is the largest city in the world with no roads, only accessible by road or plane. When I was finally evacuated I, lifelong agnostic and academic, had to completely rethink my entire belief system, and it's been an intense and miraculous process.
I underwent food shortages and probably Covid there in the jungle, the maestro almost died, my hut was robbed, part of my soul got stuck in the world of ayahuasca which lasted one year until I went back, something I never would have believed until I lived it.
I was terrified to go in the first place: afraid of giant bugs in the jungle, of the edgy chaotic din of Iquitos, the inferno of heat and humidity, the strict diet, the ayahuasca itself, and the fact that so many reported difficult or challenging times that were still somehow “worth it.” An intriguing but dubious recommendation.
I went because I had already done everything imaginable to heal after seven years of dire illness robbed me of most everything I had: my career as a professor and artist, my relationship, my passion, my future (it felt), my family and friends. It got so bad I didn't want to go on. Understandable… right? I was physically incapacitated and mostly bedridden for seven years. I miraculously recovered where many don't but was diagnosed with CPTSD, a Western diagnosis notorious for being nearly impossible to treat. I tried therapy, spent a month in work-study at a renowned healing center, walked two caminos at 500 miles each in Europe, and did all the other more normal and smaller scale things people might do in this pickle. But I still felt paralyzed and pinned down by the weight of a thousand worlds. I often couldn't get off the couch. I was lucky to have all these healing adventures but I sensed in my bones that I needed something from another culture, another world, to reach any baseline of healing.
I sold my place in Portland OR, then my car, and put the few things I didn’t give away in storage. I just released everything. I planned to wander the world for a year and then decide, hopefully, what to do with myself. From having read other’s descriptions I knew that the ayahuasca part of my plans would likely inform the rest. I flew away to New Zealand on Jan 1, 2020, year of the global pandemic most of us had no idea was coming. I went to Chile, then Peru.
Ayahuasca did, in fact, heal me of CPTSD when nothing else worked, made me more able to give and receive love with all people and all beings, and opened up a mystic spirit world I never believed in before. The tribal people all over the Amazon say the same thing regardless of geography or language: the plants have spirits, can be master teachers, and can profoundly heal humans. Not everyone experiences the same thing, or meets a presence or being, but most who do agree that ayahusaca is a she and many experience these massive transformations. After all I've been through I believe ayahuasca is the most powerful healing force, or medicine, in the world.
As I write this two years later, I've now worked with 13 shamans, have been to the Amazon three times, and have done two dietas with master plants. I've spent 6 of the past 18 months in the jungle I was once so afraid of. Ohh I still am, it's nothing to mess with.
I'm now working on articles, a book, and art related to plant medicine. I am also in a beautiful collaboration with two shaman-curanderos and an old friend of some thirty years to bring their wisdom and understanding out of the jungle to those who may never experience plant medicine.
I cannot mention ayahuasca or plant medicine responsibly without also saying it's not for everyone. Also, we Westerners have begun an extraction-based colonization of plant medicines from the jungle and whatever comes next can not follow that same old script. The Amazon and the people who live there must be protected.
If you want to know more about ayahuasca:
Documentaries: The Song That Calls You Home (2020), From Shock to Awe (2019, the Luc Cote one, not the other), The Sacred Science (2011), Lea and I (2019)
Film: El Abrazo de la Serpiente (Embrace of the Serpent, 2016)
Books: The Ayahuasca Dialogues, Ricardo Amaringo (who is one of my maestros); The Fellowship of the River: A Medical Doctor’s Exploration into Traditional Amazonian Plant Medicine, Joseph Tafur; Listening to Ayahuasca, Rachel Harris; Ayahuasca in My Blood, Peter Gorman; The Shaman and Ayahuasca, Don Jose Campos; Singing to the Plants: A Guide to Mestizo Shamanism in the Upper Amazon, Stephen V. Beyer
Photo in the temple, Iquitos Peru, Athena, Guido, Robin (left to right)