Saturday, June 27, 2009

Ayahuasca, Part 2

In that moment of terror, I began remembering some words of wisdom from Don Juan, the Yaqui Indian sorcerer. Make death your friend, he said. It is always at your left, right there, at arms length. In times of confusion and sorrow, death is often the only thing that can renew our perspective and temper our spirit. I stretched out my left arm and gazed just beyond my fingertips, ready to see a wisp in the shadows or feel coolness against my skin. Nothing. It was not my time. It was not death creeping up on me, but something else that wore death as a mask. I spoke in thoughts, trying to make contact with the beings around me: where do you come from and why are you here? What do you have to teach me? No answer. It was quiet now. The haunting sounds of suffering had disappeared. It became clear that I was being offered this silence as a way to go deeper, to become an unmolested spectator to my own madness.

The serpentine felines seemed to stay just outside a small circle I had drawn in the grass around my body moments before plunging into this shadow world of what I now know to be my life. There they lurked, just beyond arms reach, never arriving, but perpetually searching, their senses keenly alert for fear, for attention. Something from above gently ripped through the silence. I would have thought they were merely bats if it wasn’t for the terrifying sounds that trailed their course through the sky. A feeling appeared instantaneously with my first glimpse: demons. Just above the treetops these massive winged creatures made criss-crossing patterns through the sky, producing the sound of a thousand centipedes scurrying across a pane of glass. What in God’s name is going on and what world have I left behind, I thought to myself. I probed the demons as I had the beasts on the ground, but still no answers. Easing into acceptance, my terror gradually became fascination, curiosity and awe, which only blunted more the sharpness of the shadow world around me. Just then, from a distance that seemed planets away, the gentle notes of a wooden flute drifted into my circle from the other side of the terrain, leaving faint trails of light to linger amidst the trees in the grayness of early dawn.

Then a voice spoke from inside of me: you are in the darkness now, come into the light. I was instantly on my feet, moving confidently toward the source of the music, heaving in the air like a man who had forgotten how to breathe. My path led through the trees to a gravel trail that continued on between two structures. One was a grey house, looking empty and abandoned, the other, an open-aired room with a knee-high brick wall on three sides and a wooden roof. The side facing me as I approached had a bamboo covering from top to bottom, concealing who or what was inside. There was smoke hovering low in the air from a campfire quietly crackling on a small mound between the structures. It was very soothing, its energy felt pure. My eyes winced as I approached. I broke through the cloud of smoke and saw clearly the expanse of wilderness that was stretched out beyond the terrain. Just beyond the fire the earth dropped off into a wide, open, tree-covered valley, which unfolded gently from the bottom towards the horizon. I stood still momentarily, arms at my side, taking in this foreign land around me. As if by instinct I moved in close to the fire and crouched down before it, noticing for the first time that I was not alone. A shirtless man was knelt down on the ash-covered ground in front of the fire. He was surrounded by a circle, carved out of the earth an inch deep and with a small rock he was tracing over all kinds of symbols on the ground in front of him. His actions were hurried and intense and I saw his inner suffering as equal to my plight with the tiger snakes and the demons from the mango hillside. My suffering was his and his was mine. We were one. I wondered if he could hear the music, now cascading out from behind the bamboo wall. If he doesn’t now, he will soon enough. With each passing moment the energy multiplied, peeling back the layers of darkness one soul at a time. I turned back to the fire, gazing intently at its pulsing crimson heartbeat. I was one with the shimmering coals within that lay firmly on the same earth that also held my body tightly in place. And there we were, momentarily, so close to dust. The fire was a spirit, I realized, existing between worlds, like a bridge of light passing through multiple curtains of perception. I greeted it, stretching my arms towards the flames, my palms open to receive the heat. My eyes closed. On the heals of breath I brought light into my being, to scour through my body, gathering all the darkness from within, no longer concealed by shadow, but illuminated, exposed and conquered. I offered it to the fire, feeling it leave my body and return to the source as smoke and ash slowly dissolving into the sky of early dawn. The time had come. I opened my eyes and rose to my feet, stepping away from the fire and into a world of light beyond words and a depth beyond imagination. I walked lightly towards the music, feeling resurrected, each step a return to a primordial essence lost long ago. A crowd of people had gathered around, soaking in the bath of light. I took a seat on the small brick enclosure, shoulder to shoulder with others, merging with the collective. The music was pure magic and took form in the air around us. The words were mantras and spoke to us in piercing rays of rainbow light. I offered myself wholly to this power, opening to the infinite. Bliss was the blending of my energy with the rhythm of the music, the divine essence of the moment. Spanish guitar, wooden drums and flute all merged in perfect harmony with the enchanting voice of the shaman, standing in the center of the space, projecting a wisdom far older and more sacred than words. His lyrical mantras clutched at the heart, you could see it clearly in the bodies and faces of the people who were so transfixed by this man’s presence. Each gesture, each pluck of a string, each whistle through the wood, each smile, each tear, each breath was a culminating brushstroke on a masterpiece of the divine. It was God incarnate in the raw essence of humanity and it was the most beautiful moment of my life.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Ayahuasca, Part 1

I knew that I would not be able to sleep, but I was dragged down to the ground nonetheless, my tired body slipping heavily between the tall grass around me. My breath carried the tremble of fear, so I closed my eyes to focus my mind and center myself in this body. Deeply in and out, the midnight air soothed my nerves. I was open and attentive, while trying not to let an over-productive imagination flood my senses and drown out whatever truth the night might bring. Time passed. I sat up and opened my eyes to engage once again with my surroundings, struggling to see through the darkness of the moonless night. A figure moved in front of me. It was a woman. She was crawling around beneath one of the mango trees that were scattered across the terrain. On her hands and knees now, she started to weep. They were the unmistakable sobs of desperation. She moved a hand to the trunk of the tree for support and began to vomit uncontrollably, expelling the toxins from inside, cleansing her mental anguish one heave at a time. The sobbing continued between the purges. Others in the distance were now letting go as well, as if prompted by her release. I couldn’t make sense of what was happening, all the crying, all the vomiting, all the screaming. I thought that I must have been in Hell, or some hopeless, awful wasteland along the way. I laid back down and closed my eyes once again to try and shut it all out. My salvation is within me, I thought, as I started to retreat inside myself, searching for something pure to hold onto. Just breathe. Seek the quiet inside yourself and just breathe. A falling mango from the branches above me shattered the rhythm of my breath and assaulted the calmness of my heartbeat. I laughed quietly out loud and reassured myself that all these latent fears were just as silly as being afraid of falling fruit. I tucked my pants into my socks to prevent more fire ants from crawling up my legs and feasting on the backs of my calves. Relaxing back into the grass I mentally brought some light into my body, into every finger, into every pore, letting the time pass. It wasn’t quite fear that seized me when I opened my eyes again. For me, fear brings with it a sense of helplessness. This was abject terror. The curious, paralyzed shock of the unimaginable. But I never became disconnected from a faint calmness deep in the background of my mind, the intuitive realization that everything was as it should be, that all was one, that I would be okay. I let it come, and with renewed conviction in my process, begged the darkness forward. The grass had grown tenfold and had moved in to surround my body like a cocoon. It was jet black in color. All around me it swayed gently in windless space, like living blades of shimmering darkness. My eyes were peeled open, sweating, and I took it all in: the terror, the bewilderment and the confusion, ready to die for whatever lurked within or beyond this grassy, mango covered hill. I took in a slow, deep breath and let it out quietly, knowing full well that noise mattered little, my presence had already been felt, I could be screaming and it wouldn’t change a thing. I sensed movement in the black, knee-high forest around me. Glimpses of what was out there, caught from the corner of each eye, hurled my vision skyward and my imagination crystallized the panorama of my plight. Lurking in the grass all around me were snake-like cats, monstrous in size, pressed low to the ground, concealed in shadow, slowly zoning in on my body with a sinister, slithering crawl.