What Ayahuasca taught me about Fear, Love, and Life on Earth
Maestro Eladio was dressed in all white, wearing a colorful corona (crown) accented by the vibrant blue and red feathers of a macaw. In his hands, he held a small cup of the Ayahuasca mixture, which looks like balsamic vinegar but tastes… worse.
He summoned me to the mesa, and I made my way carefully forward through the dark room of the “Maloca.” Before I accepted the cup, I took a deep breath and looked around the table that separated the two of us, illuminated only by Maestro’s dim red headlamp. There were instruments of all kinds – maracas, chimes, a tambourine, a harmonica, as well as figurines and artwork.
After I accepted and drank from the cup, I sat back down on my mat, wondering what was about happen. I was met with equal parts fear and excitement, as the thought, “What the heck did you get yourself into?” would give way to, “I bet I’m going to see some interesting stuff,” and back again to, “I wonder how long before I puke…” The room was quiet but inside my head, it was like the Colombian soccer announcers I hear doing the play-by-play so fast that it’s beyond comprehension. Such is the construct of the mind, which I’ll get to in a bit.
Fortunately, the music and the repetition of the Ikaros (the sacred Quechua prayers designed to connect with the spirit of Ayahuasca) allowed me to relax and welcome whatever was headed my way.
And so began my first medicine ceremony in the Peruvian Amazon this past January.
We find fear in most places, especially when it comes to the things that matter the most to us. I now know after this experiment with Ayahuasca that we really do have the ability to alter our relationship to those fears.
In the process of writing this and imagining myself sharing it with almost everyone I know, (my mom’s still not on Facebook) I was afraid of being judged and misunderstood as a whacked out hippie on some kind of drug trip.
Instead of a drug, however, I refer to Ayahuasca as medicine. As our shaman Maestro Eladio taught us, the indigenous Quechua people in Peru have been using this plant for it's cleansing, life-affirming and healing properties for thousands of years.
Most importantly, my commitment to sharing this experience with you is stronger than those fears I just mentioned, especially when much of what I learned taught me about being human, and being here together in this life.
Everything I share here is my experience, and my commentary and assessment of it are what I believe. But it’s not the “truth.” It’s only my experience.
I said yes to Ayahuasca because if there was a chance it could help me understand life on a deeper level, I was all in. Also, if there was a chance that I could connect even more with the natural world, I wanted to know what that was like.
WE ARE NOT OUR BODIES
As best as I can describe it, when the medicine starts to take effect (or as Maestro would say, once the spirit of the medicine accepts you) you enter another realm. Or you could call it another dimension. I have no idea what dimension it was, but it was definitely not what I’m used to.
One of my first thoughts was, “Oh. This is what collective consciousness feels like.” We would talk just like usual, and sing the Ikaros together, but everyone in the ceremony could sense that we didn’t need language in order to connect and understand one another.
I was clear that I had a body, but at times, only because I could touch my body. My consciousness seemed to be outside my body, and space and distance as I knew them were completely warped.
In other words, as Maestro sang the Ikaros, shaking maracas for a beat, or playing the chime as he made his way around the room, I couldn’t tell whether he was all the way across the room or right next to me. It also seemed like both of my friends were right next to me, yet my mind knew their mats were across the room.
The birds, frogs, and insects that sang, croaked and chirped from the surrounding rainforest could just as easily have been there in the room with us. In fact, as I lay there on the mat, it didn’t seem like I was inside a building. All of us, including everything I heard, were outside together, in the middle of the jungle.
After about the third or fourth time I purged, I began to wonder what this would have been like had I ignored the Ayahuasca “Dieta” that I had been following for two weeks to a month prior to the ceremony. As it turns out, coffee was the hardest for me to give up out of the recommended abstinence of sugar, sexual activity, alcohol, meat, pork, spicy foods, and salty, processed foods.
Though I now had the experience that “I” am not my body, I simultaneously gained a greater appreciation for this body. I recognized it as part of me, and I thought of it like a temple, which usually contains my spirit. It was incredibly clear to me… why wouldn’t I take as much care of this temple as I can while I have it? It gave me a whole new appreciation for what I put into it as fuel to make it go, and the importance of giving it the rest it deserves.
The First Visuals, Ayahuasca’s Message
The first visuals I see are swirling colors and shapes, prominently displayed in what I can only describe as, “Technicolor,” especially shades of green, red, and yellow. My mind also kept repeating, “Sacred Geometry,” though I would later have to research what this actually meant. I begin to notice circles that I thought might be tunnels, triangles, and shapes that I’m sure to have names, but I’m a bit rusty on my 8th-grade geometry. I see incredibly colorful patterns, moving, connecting, and diverging, almost like a kaleidoscope. My mind begins to wonder, “The building blocks of the Universe?” It was now that I could understand all the designs I saw on clothes, tapestries, and paintings all over the city of Iquitos, where I first landed in Peru.
The shapes fade and reveal an outdoor setting, a field with trees, painted in the same Technicolor. At this moment, I can’t actually see the creatures around me, but I have a deep intuitive sense that I am connected with many other spirits that surround me.
It was as I observe this scene outdoors, with the steady rainfall and constant chorus of rainforest creatures, that I felt connected to everything. It was a general understanding that “we,” meaning all the living beings that I heard and sensed, are all there. We’re all here. The message was very clear, “We are one.”
Earlier Maestro told us that in the first ceremony, Ayahuasca will show you what you want to see. I already believed that we are connected far beyond what we can see or even comprehend. But the actual experience, the FEELING of it in this ceremony went far, far beyond my conceptual belief. This was an unspoken, deep understanding of our ability to coexist. As a human being, I took this as a wakeup call for how our species acts, especially in relationship to the natural world, of which we are a part and over which we ultimately have no dominion.
The primary message I believe Ayahuasca wanted me to experience in this first ceremony was a profound experience of the love that unites us, including a mutual acceptance of all beings.
This experience was not all kumbaya, however. In nature, there is conflict, struggle, and death. There is also a perfect order of all things. Nature is whole and complete. So are we. At our core. There is nothing lacking – what makes us think this (as it relates to who we really are and what we are capable of) are the fears that we are often convinced are real.
I’m not talking about the very real fears that our mind alerts us from to keep us safe such as, avoid this oncoming bus. I’m talking about deep-seated fears that relate to our self-worth, our place in this world, and even our future. Here’s one of mine:
“You’re never going to find meaningful work that will support you and your future family.”
Ayahuasca showed me all the levels of fear... as if I were playing a game and had to make my way through each level. What was fascinating was that I had no “fear of fear” because I could look at these fears without the emotional pull or belief that they’re actually real – all the way down to the fear of death.
This certainly has the potential to be heavy, doesn’t it? It wasn’t.
WE ARE NOT OUR MINDS
I realized more than ever before that the mind just never stops. It just goes. Remember those Energizer Bunny commercials? That’s the mind. Always commenting, always assessing, always judging.
Somewhere between the third and fourth time I threw up, (purged) I began to think… despite understanding this cleansing aspect of the medicine – that I was not well, and that something was wrong.
Here’s a snapshot into some of the thoughts my mind greeted me with: Something definitely bit you this morning in the river, (the river that flowed through the property was my shower) probably a poisonous snake with some kind of delayed reaction venom.
Then there was, “yeah, so one of those dozen mosquito bites you have? What if one of those mosquitos had malaria, or Zika, or some new disease they haven’t found yet?”
Lovely. However, what Ayahuasca helped me to see was that I HAD a mind, but I was not my mind. So it was as if I was watching myself have these thoughts. In fact, I actually began to laugh at the wild stuff my mind came up with, none of it real.
Sure, as I stood up to go find the outhouse and almost fell over because of dizziness, I understand WHY I was having these thoughts. But what the heck was I gonna do about the bite in the river this morning now, or my mosquito bites, as I fumbled in the dark for the door of a temple in the middle of the rainforest?
Because I knew my mind was only a part of my whole being, I was able to let these thoughts go, and began to cultivate this sense of humor with the relentless machine of my mind. In fact, I saw how fortunate I am to have this mind to warn me of all the potential dangers that I could face. And how incredible this machine is that helps us sort out the complexities of life.
Why was I having these crazy thoughts? Because I was afraid of dying. Understandable, right? But the experience took me deeper, beyond the base fear of dying to see that it wasn’t death itself that I feared. Something about being this realm gave me the sense that death of the body isn’t going to be all that scary, and that it’s just part of the cycle of life (and death).
This is not to say I’m now fearless. I don’t have any plans indulge any of the wild ideas I used to have like driving a Ferrari 200mph on the Autobahn. On the contrary, this whole experience made me appreciate life ten times more.
What I could now see was that dying at this moment would keep me from living what to me is a complete life. This was my core fear. It was sad to contemplate “crossing over” before being a dad. Before writing that book. Before helping more people connect to our planet. These thoughts coursed through me like a jolt of electricity and brought tears to my eyes.
It was the gentle repetition of the Ikaros that brought me back. I wasn’t dying; my mind just took me down a rabbit hole of fear, and I sat up and thought, well THAT was interesting. Again, I could see that my mind was just the announcer doing his job with the play-by-play and analysis of what was happening.
There was actually peace in this. Peace in knowing that the mind’s just going to comment, judge, assess, and just keep running, and running, and running like Forrest Gump.
I still get caught up in my thoughts just like all of us. However what is clear to me now is that no matter how real my fears may seem, it’s my responsibility to question them. And it’s my choice if I want to allow them to dominate my life.
It seemed as if I could communicate beyond the physical realm.
Meaning, the distance now didn’t seem like a barrier, even thousands of miles. I felt this incredibly strong sense of connection with my mom, who had just had back surgery. Without a means of reaching her, I had spent the last few days wondering if she was okay.
In a brief vision I remember vividly, I saw her as if she were physically
right in front of me, and between us was a bright ball of light. After this faded, I somehow just knew the surgery had gone well, and that she was fine. I didn’t have to worry anymore. Do I have a logical, rational explanation for this? Not at all. But again it’s simply a mechanism of the mind to NEED that explanation.
In other words – space, distance, even language – none of these limited my ability to communicate.
For instance, when Maestro blessed the top of my head with rose water and continued with the Ikaros, I knew I didn’t have to actually say the words, “Thank you.” He could feel it.
The next day when I asked him if he could sense my expression of thanks, he smiled and nodded. With so much training in his route to becoming a Shaman, he could not only feel our energy, he could SEE the energy fields around our physical bodies. I can’t see fields of energy just yet, but I certainly believe it’s possible.
Then there was the connection I felt with all the creatures that surrounded us in the rainforest. Space and distance were so warped that it felt like the frog that continued to croak outside the Maloka was sitting right next to me.
Imagine laying in the middle of the jungle with all the sounds you would expect – insects, frogs, birds, as well as noises that you’ve never heard before. And there’s no separation in the “reality” you share. No separation between you and all of it. This to me was the truest expression of the love that Ayahuasca opened my eyes to.
There was a mutual understanding that we’re all here… and we can coexist peacefully. I thought to myself, “Well the animals all get it. Do you?” What was clear to me was that this was not some idealistic fantasyland – this is REAL for me. I thought THIS is what actually exists outside the construct of my fears.
How do you determine what’s real and what’s not real? There’s no secret to this one, except to say – you get to choose. Ayahuasca helped deepen my understanding that this whole experience of life is all made up - we choose to interpret it.
Ayahuasca helped me to understand that this love; the source of this unspoken connection; this is God to me. It doesn’t matter which term you would choose to describe this… God/Universe/Gaia/Nature – in my opinion, we’re all describing the same inexplicable force that’s much bigger than us as individual beings.
I share this as a powerful recognition that by nature of being here together, we are more connected than we are often present too.
After months of reflection on what I learned, I can now see we don’t even need plant medicine to access the consciousness I felt. I recognize how fortunate I am to have had this experience, and thank you for taking the time to read this.
I want to leave you with a primary lesson from this experience. I believe that the more we question the validity of our fears and are willing to lean into and through them, the richer our lives can be when we realize our limits are often beyond where we perceive them to be.
Finally, I want to acknowledge and thank my friend Sebastian Hernandez for supporting me leading up to and through this experience. I don’t know if I would have gone through with this without you, and now I have you to thank for a deeper appreciation of life that I will have as long as I live.
If you would like to learn more about our Next Trip to Peru to Work with Maestro Eladio and Ayahuasca