“I go to places that heal me . . .”
Was it courage or foolishness?
At this point, it didn’t matter to me. I was ready and willing to try anything that might alleviate my suffering.
What I planned to do this weekend was definitely something that in my former life I would never have considered.
It was completely “outside the box” for me. It sounded uncomfortable and scary. It wasn’t something that was even acceptable to discuss with friends and family. It was also expensive.
I decided to do it anyway!
Six months ago, a good friend told me how she participated in medicine healing workshops. I was curious about it and even looked up the medicine on the Internet. The experience was very intense, and definitely something I wouldn’t do based on only curiosity.
I left it at that.
But recently, I had been suffering terribly with my eyes and a heavy heart. I visited my friend and she mentioned she had a workshop coming up on the weekend. She could see how miserable I was – I haltingly told her that perhaps I was indeed ready now. I wondered if she thought this workshop could help me. Her response was that it would definitely change my life.
Suddenly, my heart began to pound with excitement.
Later on, she called me back to say, “There is one opening left for this weekend. I would be honored if you did this and I’d stay by your side throughout. I admire how courageous you are. By Sunday, you will feel so much better about your life. You will see things quite differently. This is something more amazing than anything else you have ever done before.”
I wanted to know more and read carefully about the experience. I would sip a tea with an Amazonian herb named ayahuasca. After that, I would meditate for six hours and experience amazing visions and realizations. An experienced shaman/leader facilitated the weekend.
For me to have the bravery to do this was unbelievable. I have never smoked a cigarette. I dislike the taste of alcohol and have avoided drugs and medication throughout my life.
Maintaining control was very important to me, even though it was only an illusion. Still, the hardest part about this was the loss of control that would happen. I might cry uncontrollably. Or worse yet, I might vomit or have the runs. There was no way of knowing.
It was likely enough that I was required to bring a container with a lid – just in case. My friend told me she had participated in over a hundred ceremonies and had never thrown up. But she told me the lid was important because I might thrash around and knock it over. The last thing I would want to do was clean up vomit.
Just imagining myself being that wild was terrifying; this was beyond scary!
I shared my anxiousness with her and she soothed me by saying, “Allow your nervous feelings to be excitement rather than fear. You will have an amazing journey within.”
I could feel my heart racing – there was definitely some excitement there. This was different from my heart racing with panic as I tried to find the courage to tell my husband I wanted a divorce.
There was preparation that was required for this experience. Over the next three days, I had to give up ingesting coffee, salt, sugar, onion and garlic. My friend explained to me that the medicine’s spell might affect me differently by having those things in my body. I prepared myself for a headache from caffeine withdrawal.
Then on Friday, I would be fasting from breakfast on. The ceremony would begin that evening.
After reading one of the links my friend sent me about ayahuasca, I was fascinated to know that many well-known musicians had gone through the experience, Paul Simon and Sting, for example.
My friend told me that great creativity would be unleashed afterwards. I was ready to dig deeper into my musical consciousness. For the last six months, I had been stuck focusing on my singing voice. It wasn’t that rewarding for me, as I concentrated more upon my flaws rather than celebrating my improvement.
Below are links with more information about ayahuasca:
What I originally wrote to begin this post:
At this moment, I am not in a good place.
I realize that I have suffered with many things in my past, which I thankfully have overcome. That is helpful for me to remember. I pray that suffering isn’t so familiar that my mind wants to stay there.
But currently, it has been a tremendous effort for me to cope with the discomfort brought upon me by my eyes.
My mind says, “If you felt better, your eyes would feel better.”
I reply with, “If my eyes felt better, I’d feel better.”
Those conversations play over and over, and unfortunately the repetitious exchange has left me tearful and discouraged with my situation.
Last week I had an uneventful visit with the surgeon who performed my three cataract surgeries. He examined my eyes and said my retinas were fine. I wasn’t able to jump with joy.
The posterior vitreous detachment in both my eyes created blurs and floaters that irritated me. I blinked to clear a constant fog and as a result couldn’t concentrate well most of the time.
I expressed to him that I suffered with uncomfortable dryness and a constant sensation in both my eyes. He told me to continue using a prescription eye drop called Restasis.
Then he said that those drops would be my lifetime regimen. Once my medical insurance runs out, it would cost $120 for a 30-day supply.
As he examined me, I mentioned that it felt like there were feathers in my eyes. He looked up from his magnifier and said; “I actually see your floaters are shaped like feathers – so that’s probably why. Eventually, you’ll get used to them.”
Initially, working on music was helpful. But unfortunately, working many hours on the computer caused my eyes to feel worse. It was completely frustrating for me.
“It all changed when I let go of fear . . .”
The countdown that began for me on Wednesday marched quickly to Friday. The familiar feeling of my heart pounding brought me back to the condition I was afflicted with only six months ago. Thankfully, I was able to slow my heartbeat down by calming myself and breathing slowly.
When I found myself imagining what would happen for me during the medicine healing ceremony, I stopped. I didn’t want to have a predetermined outcome based on my anticipation. I preferred my experience to be one that would be filled with wonderment and surprise, hopefully all positive. I did have the understanding that this would also be intense and purging – there was no escaping that.
So by Friday, the inevitability that the time was growing close had sunk in. I prayed for some relief because the irritation and sadness from my eyesight seemed to be accelerating; I had difficulty opening my eyes. I was certain it was dryness, which I treated diligently with prescribed eye drops. I made a note that if after this weekend my eyes still felt this way, it was time to pursue seeing another eye specialist.
I packed the items I would need and began fasting after a light breakfast. By 4:00 p.m. wooziness had overtaken me, but I wasn’t in tremendous discomfort. It actually felt good to know that I would be lightening my load over this weekend, in more ways than one.
The fear came in waves. I could feel a pit in my stomach followed by waves of adrenaline that caused my heart to pound. But then soothing warmth blanketed me as I reminded myself that this experience was an important one on my journey.
I was ready.
Only four hours after I came home from my medicine healing retreat, I was at my computer eager to write about it. For certain, one of the things I gained from attending this retreat was excitement about writing again. I’ve missed that feeling.
For months now, I have spent most of my energy doing tedious vocal editing and there really wasn’t any balance in my life. My Ayahuasca experience showed me how exciting it was to allow myself to venture out of my comfort zone. I had also forgotten how healing it was for me to share my journey’s insight on this blog.
Lately, I’ve neglected doing nurturing things for myself; things that could help me cope better with stress. The freedom to write has always been there, but unfortunately, my own mind imprisoned me. Freeing myself to do other things was one of many terrific revelations I gained from this past weekend.
I have far too much to write for one post and want my writing to be thoughtful. I’ve read about other people’s Ayahuasca experiences and found many of them to be boring. But for certain, what I am about to write will be brutally honest, almost to a point of being embarrassing. Yet if there is anything that I have learned from this blog, opening up has been the purest form of healing for me. I am not afraid.
I did let go of many fears and discovered strength this weekend that I hadn’t celebrated enough.
Obviously, this is my personal experience. I am restricted from sharing names, locations or anything specific to the ceremony, but I will write descriptive details. Within those constraints, I will delve deeply into what was unlocked within my mind during my 12-hour experience with a mind-altering substance.
I hope to make this interesting. Despite the intensity of what I went through, I found many moments of humor.
Prior to loading up my car, I said goodbye to my three teenagers (my oldest son was visiting). There was complete irony when my daughter said to me, “Mom, are you going to take drugs at this medicine ceremony?” When I refused to answer, she said, “You haven’t confided in me, and I’m always open with you. If you do take something, please be careful!”
So as I left, it dawned on me that signing up for this ceremony was about doing something exploratory and reminiscent of something that I hadn’t done while in my twenties. I grew up with very strict rules and repression, marrying at the age of twenty and going from my parents’ home with rules into one with my husband and his rules.
I felt remarkably calm and not at all hungry, which was amazing for me. Already I could see the benefit of discovering my ability to fast; it had been decades since I’d done that. I carried a lot of angst about hating the Jewish Holidays, because I felt I was forced to attend services with my parents and follow things exactly the way my mother dictated. She was powerful, and I was traumatized by seeing her yell at my middle brother for not observing the second day of the Jewish New Year. He was reduced to tears facing her outrage.
As I drove, I listened to my music for half an hour. I usually only listen to recent music I am working on, but this time I went back to listen to older songs. One of the best revelations occurred for me on this drive.
I decided that I was tired of vocal editing and planned to accelerate releasing my audio book and songs, even if my vocals weren’t of my current “improved voice.” Many of my older songs had more emotion and that was something I realized would touch people far more.
This realization was huge for me! I was excited about my newfound energy, despite living with eyesight that constantly bothered me.
My hair felt like wire because I had used an unscented baby soap to wash myself. I had to be fragrance free and skipped deodorant because I didn’t have anything unscented. I was too busy to worry about my body odor.
I arrived at the “secret location,” which was high in the hills above Los Angeles. My good friend who had participated in hundreds of ceremonies welcomed me and told me where to put my gear. I set up a yoga mat and rested a lawn chair upon it across from her. My chair had a limit of 225 lbs. and I was relieved when I bought it earlier in the day at a nearby drugstore. It was the last one on the shelf. I was about at that top weight and hoped it wouldn’t collapse on me. As I write this, I share that I lost five pounds since yesterday. That by itself is a great beginning for me to find control and regain my health.
I walked into a beautiful spacious home. There was a large area with hardwood floors where the ceremony would be held. I was glad I had thought to send an email earlier and ask how I could make it more comfortable for me to meditate. I was not in shape to sit on the floor for six hours without feeling pain from my legs and back. The Shaman (leader) gave me permission to bring a low lawn chair to sit in; it was required not to be squeaky because it could disturb the others in the room. He said that during the ceremony, sounds were heightened by the medicine. With my eyes closed, I might see imagery that was overwhelming and that could cause me to rock in the chair.
The other 20 people participating in the ceremony were simply beautiful to look at. They all shined with excitement and were receptive to meeting god and experiencing spiritual cleansing. There were fewer women than men and a lot of energy as we all sat very close together.
I noticed a lot of interesting ritual paraphernalia upon a floor mat in front of the Shaman. He was puffing on pipes and busy with all kinds of brews and bottles. It was fascinating to watch him.
The Shaman had everyone introduce themselves and asked us to speak about what we were hoping to achieve with our healing. When it was my turn, I said quite simply that I had experienced a lot of trauma in my life. It always amazed me when I listed “my baggage.” I said that my firstborn son had died twenty years ago. I had worked tirelessly advocating and coping with three special needs children. I had been a caregiver for my parents (my father died a year ago and my mother was wasting away with severe dementia). And lastly, I had chosen to divorce my husband after 31 years.
After everyone finished their introductions, The Shaman talked about what would happen while we explored our inner demons. He said that habits of thought imprisoned our lives. This ceremony would force us to confront those habits that were holding us back. It would be life changing and great revelations would occur. I was so ready for that. I certainly knew that music had transformed me, but I needed help coping with the sadness from my eyesight discomfort and guilt about hurting my husband and children by ending my marriage.
The Shaman continued to answer questions and relayed a lot of information about the ceremony. It had been going on for thousands of years in South America. He traveled there frequently and told anecdotes that were fascinating about some of his experiences with Ayahuasca ceremonies in the jungles of the Andes’.
He considered the Ayahuasca medicine to be a spirit; it was powerful and all-knowing about what each individual required in order to heal. There was no fighting it and trusting that spirit would make the process much easier and reduce pain. He said that letting go and not fighting the magic of the healing power was very important.
Every ayahuasca experience was different for every person and unique each time the brew was ingested.
One thing I found amazing was that the brew was actually made by combining two plants. Each plant by itself cannot produce any effects. Because that area of the world has literally billions of plants, it was miraculous that the indigenous people discovered it. The process of brewing it was also very complex and had been going on since 500 BC. I had a lot of respect for the history behind it. There was a lot of scientific material on it, but the healing properties were supposedly mysterious and unexplainable.
Candles were lit and the odors were powerful. It was nauseating and that was something I was already trying to come to terms with. I had a vomiting phobia. Most of my life, I resisted throwing up even though I had to surrender to it on certain occasions. I remembered each and every one; I even counted the years between those times. My last episode was probably 15 years ago when I took a pain reliever on an empty stomach.
Therefore, part of my courage about this ceremony was the likelihood I would vomit. I brought my container (with a lid to avoid spillage) and decided I would let go of my fear about it. I certainly knew from past experience that the suffering of fighting it was a torment, because there was always so much relief afterwards. Still, I had learned amazing calming techniques to get myself out of many nauseating situations. I often suffered from severe carsickness as a child and when my parents drove through a canyon, it was like torture for me.
The Shaman explained that purging was an important part of the Ayahuasca experience; it was about releasing the toxins from the soul as well as the body. The purging could be vomiting, diarrhea or intense crying – any or all of those three things. He said that if it happened, gratefulness and thankfulness should be offered because it was a gift.
I felt some fear when the Shaman said that it was common to actually feel as if you were dying during this experience. He said that it was important to know it wasn’t the case, but it might feel very real and scary.
One of the rules was silence. He said that with such an intense experience, the sound of crying and moaning was disturbing to others in the room. I was certain I could be quiet because I was really good at that. In my apartment/coop, I struggled with it and never felt free to sing or make phone calls when my teenagers were home. I could count the moments where I was alone and free to roam my abode; I was lucky if it totaled more than a few hours in an entire week.
Lastly, he discussed certain signals that were important in case of emergencies. If assistance was needed to go to the bathroom, we were to call out his name. If anyone said help, it was like calling 911 and wasn’t to be used unless it was a true emergency. He again quizzed everyone to be sure no one had any drugs in their system that might interact with the medicine.
I thought about my experience as one where I would travel to a fantastic place in the universe. Before my journey of insight began three years ago, I often felt jealousy when close friends shared about their world travels. I had been to very few places in my life. I hadn’t had an enjoyable vacation in so long that I couldn’t remember when the last time was. I realized that I now had the freedom to change that, if I chose to.
It was perfect for me to imagine I was going on an amazing trip. My friends might have gone to Europe, but here I was experiencing something also amazing. I felt like a virgin and it was profound. Just mentioning that word, was an important clue about where my experience would lead. I held a lot of repression around my sexuality and wanted healing surrounding it. I experienced great trauma at the age of 20 when my mother pressured me to marry six months before my planned wedding. It had recently surfaced again for me. It was a result of watching my own childrens’ budding sexuality and feeling confusion. I did not want to give them any hang-ups or messages I had received as a child.
Earlier that morning, I had a wonderful hypnotherapy session. There were profound revelations there and it was actually terrific because it prepared me for the ceremony better than I could ever have imagined. It turned out that my mother hadn’t actually “forced me” to get married, when she found out I wasn’t a virgin. It was my oldest brother’s idea, and I followed it to pacify her. I needed to find more forgiveness in my heart. She hadn’t meant to harm me; it was more about how fixated she was on “doing the right thing.”
The lights were dimmed and it was quiet. Candles were lit. The Shaman performed a few rituals and the odors were becoming more intense. Strange musical sounds wafted through the room as he played bizarre instruments.
The inevitability of my experience beginning was very close now. I felt my heart fill with courage as I waited for my turn.
The Shaman gingerly dropped bark and leaves into a boiling pot. He mixed in thick liquid from a bottle and then poured a small amount of dark brew into a ceramic goblet. He chanted something as he inhaled from a pipe and blew smoke into the cup. Everyone used the same cup and he wiped it in between with a paper towel.
I watched the man in front of me swig his brew and now it was my turn. Earlier, I had asked a question about what the brew tasted like and joked that I hoped it would be like chocolate. The Shaman said it was more like vanilla. The goblet was handed to me and I gulped it down.
The liquid was brown and thick. It tasted bitter, smoky and actually was a little like chocolate. Even though I swallowed it easily, after a moment I decided it was horrible. I was left with a disgusting taste in my mouth and my throat burned. I hadn’t drunk much liquid because I hoped it would give me less chance of throwing up. I had played tennis early in the morning and hadn’t eaten since 7 a.m., so my mouth was very dry.
With the first wave of sensation, I felt like I was on a dizzying car ride. There was no going back now.
My trip to hell began.
The room was dark and I quietly waited. I could still taste the bitter Ayahuasca brew in my mouth. I breathed slowly as I wondered what would happen next.
Within a few moments, strange sensations began coursing through my body in huge waves. I imagined I was on a car ride going over large humps where my stomach dropped. I couldn’t see the twisting road ahead and I certainly wasn’t driving.
I quietly focused on remaining calm.
I thought about my doctor friend, Sam, who had hoped I wouldn’t go through with this. He had warned me about the effects of taking a hallucinogenic drug. I hadn’t read about anything horrible happening with ayahuasca – it wasn’t quite the same as LSD, but I also knew it was an intense experience.
The weird sensations reminded me of why I hated any form of alcohol my entire life. With one sip of any alcoholic beverage, my stomach felt warm and queasy; I hated that feeling. I didn’t like being “out of control” and realized this ayahuasca experience might be hard for me.
As a menopausal woman, I was fortunate I hadn’t suffered from hot flashes, but suddenly I had an intense experience of one. Searing heat poured through every cell in my body. I felt liquid pouring from my pores like rain, and rivers of sweat splashed down me in a torrent. I gripped the bucket and held on tightly as if I were on roller coaster.
I clutched my bucket and leaned forward. The queasiness and nausea that gripped me was unrelenting. Suddenly the room was filled with roaring sounds of retching and vomiting. People were puking their guts out.
My friend had told me she never threw up at any of the hundred ceremonies she had participated in. I wondered if perhaps I might escape it, but it didn’t seem likely because I felt so sick. But I couldn’t throw up because I hadn’t yet reached “the point of no return.” The Shaman said if the Ayahuasca spirit required me to purge, I wouldn’t be able to stop it. The medicine spirit knew exactly what each person required in order to heal.
The Shaman said purging was something that allowed a person to release toxins from their soul. If someone did not vomit, it meant that they weren’t carrying anything to purge. I hoped perhaps that might be my case, because I achieved so much healing already from my music and writing.
Still, the intensity of the sensations were like torture for me, and I wondered how much longer it would last. The sound of retching and moaning continued to fill the room, and I was amazed that I hadn’t vomited yet as I continued to suffer from intense nausea. It seemed that my ability to exert control was extending my suffering, because I couldn’t simply let go and throw up.
I wondered if I was holding onto pain and suffering because of PTSD. But I countered that with the knowledge that I didn’t feel pain over the death of my child anymore. I always felt him within my heart and he was a part of every one of my songs. I was so grateful that I had healed from “the amputation of my soul.”
I had no illusions that Ayahuasca wasn’t a drug. My personal take on the experience was that the intense pain would climax with intense pleasure; it would be similar to a sexual experience. The Shaman’s role was to help people get through the pain to reach that place.
The minutes melted into hours. I waited for visions, but there were none and I spent all of my energy in my mind thinking about ways to cope. I felt intensely alone, but marveled that I was not fearful. I wondered why I hadn’t had any visions. Many people do and my friend told me I would see amazing things with my eyes closed.
All I saw was darkness.
The pain began to intensify, and my spiritual work began. From the beginning, I prayed to god to give me a safe and pleasant journey. I held onto the belief that I was blessed and had suffered enough in my life. I was a good person and deserved to heal. The Ayahuasca spirit would fill my heart with love and my healing would be beautiful.
But now, I didn’t care what the outcome would be and decided that whatever it was, it wasn’t worth this much pain. With humor, I thought about the fact that I had paid money for this. I imagined myself at a swanky resort having a massage instead of being huddled in a fetal position on a lawn chair.
I began to beg for relief because I couldn’t stand it anymore. I still could not throw up or relinquish control.
The Shaman had talked about the different ways that people experienced ayahuasca. Some were observers, almost in a scientific kind of way. That sounded just like me. Others delved inward and let go of themselves, which often led to an amazing “out of body” experience.
I was in so much discomfort that I hung my head over the bucket in exhaustion. At that moment, I decided I was not going to come back the following night to repeat this ceremony.
I leaned forward and found myself dozing in order to numb the pain. It dawned on me that I was very good at sleepwalking through life for decades in order to cope. From the time I had gotten married, I was depressed. Six years later, when I gave birth to my first child with a severe congenital heart defect, I was constantly suffering with his care. Now it dawned on me that perhaps this was my greatest lesson from ayahuasca.
I could not allow myself to stop and feel pain because otherwise I was afraid I would fall down and not get back up.
Suddenly, I could hear the Shaman singing in front of me. He was brushing me with a twig and leaves while chanting. He firmly squeezed my shoulders and whispered instructions for me to sit up. He said, “Stop fighting the medicine; let it help you. You must breathe deeply and let go.”
I told him I was so tired of the pain and suffering and wanted it to be over.
He gently said, “In the next five minutes, you will experience something that will change your life.” It was almost like he was coaching me toward an orgasm.
I sat up straighter and felt more awake, but the dizziness was unbearable. I took a few deep breaths, and the waves were intensifying and my heart was pounding like a drum. I began to pray to god to help me let go. I wondered when I would be released, as I heard other people’s moans of ecstasy.
But the minutes ticked by and it had been much longer than five minutes. I realized the Shaman was wrong because nothing had happened.
A few people were singing songs, but I could not really hear anything. I was completely tuned out and in a black hole of pain. It was more exhausting than anything I had gone through in a long time. It reminded me of childbirth.
The Shaman came back and said, “You are too still and you need to move more. You do not understand how to use the power of your breathing to help yourself.”
He was right about my stillness. I had definitely slowed down in my life and had hardly been exercising for months.
Another hour went by. I began to shake from exhaustion and was still intensely nauseous, but couldn’t throw up.
I called out again for the Shaman to help me.
He gently said, “Healing will happen when you are ready to let go. Just let love into your heart.”
I sincerely tried. I thought about the love I felt for each one of my children. A revelation came to me at that moment. They were all such beautiful humans and represented a piece of both my husband and I. Therefore; it meant I could allow myself to feel love toward my husband. I was holding onto a lot of anger toward him. I felt myself letting it go as I remembered that he had fathered our beautiful children.
In order to cope with guilt about hurting him, I carried a lot of anger about what I had missed in our marriage. But he had suffered, too.
He would never have left me. I also knew it was impossible for him to change and I wasn’t going to force him to in order for us to stay together. I had blamed him subconsciously for neglecting my physical needs, when the truth was that I was the one who was blocked and withholding.
I began to forgive him and myself.
I moved on to thinking about my children and how angry they all were because I had hurt their father. Guilt and resentment overwhelmed me. I would bounce back and forth between those two emotions. I wanted to pacify their anger while at the same time being angry that they didn’t want me to be joyful in my life. My children weren’t happy that I discovered writing and music for many reasons.
I desperately wanted their forgiveness, but was angry with myself for wanting their blessing. I was often devastated that they didn’t care about my happiness and felt so misunderstood. For years I had been a caregiver and had sacrificed so much for my entire family. Wasn’t I entitled to find a better life free from pain and negativity?
So often I had felt that my love for my family had gotten me through grief. But now my children didn’t appreciate all that I had done for them. That led me to realize that my love must not have been unconditional because I wanted something from them in return.
Then it dawned on me – my own mother behaved that way with me. Later in my life, she told me how sorry she was for pressuring me to marry because I had done something she felt was sinful by having sex before marriage.
I could let go of my anger about what she had done because I realized that she probably suffered terribly. She knew how much she had hurt me and worried for good reason that perhaps I hadn’t truly forgiven her. For the rest of her life she tried to make it up to me.
I opened my heart and begged for peace. Despite my beautiful and forgiving revelations, I continued to suffer.
The room was no longer as quiet. The Shaman announced that it had been six hours and the ceremony was over. Everyone could either go to sleep or talk outside on the patio.
Now I felt like I was a total failure. Everyone in that room seemed to have had an amazing experience but me. I began to feel sorry for myself. Once again, life had dealt me a tough card and I lost out. It looked like I wasn’t going to be healed from the pain and sadness that manifested itself with my eye condition.
Disappointment filled my heart, but I was strangely unemotional about it.
I wasn’t sure what I should do next. Some of my dizziness began to subside and for that I was grateful. My mouth was parched because it had been open for hours while I wrestled with nausea. I touched my fingers to my lips and they were cracked and bleeding. I was dehydrated and had to pee at the same time.
I called out for my friend so she could help me get to the bathroom. In a squeaky voice I announced, “I can’t afford to fall and hurt myself. I am a mother of three children who still need me!”
I could barely walk, but managed to get there holding onto her arm. I tearfully told her that this wasn’t what I expected as I stumbled alongside of her in the darkness. She counseled me by saying, “Healing is hard work, my friend.”
After using the bathroom, I felt more alert. I took a sip of water and wet my lips to ease the dryness; then I went back and sat in my chair.
My emotions were deadened as the feeling of failure continued to overwhelm me. It was reminiscent of sexual failure, of feeling completely frustrated and left “high and dry.” It was a god-awful horrible feeling. I began to shake. I had been unable to purge in any way, shape or form. There were no tears, vomiting or diarrhea. I realized that I was incredibly adept at blocking pain.
With that thought, I suddenly started to reframe my thinking in a more loving way.
My power of control was truly amazing, even though it unfortunately didn’t allow for any pleasure. It was what had enabled me to survive grief and to go on living. My coping technique had saved me. But as the Shaman said in the beginning, humans tended to follow “habits of thought,” even when it no longer served them.
I celebrated my strength and reminded myself how I had healed from grief over Jason’s death. Also, I had most definitely experienced tremendous joy from my music and songs. My spiritual awakening was a direct result of those things.
I decided that perhaps God hadn’t come to my rescue because I didn’t really need any help!
It was after 3 a.m. and the Shaman told me he was leaving the ceremony to go to sleep. I asked him if I could just give up and go to sleep, too. I was relieved when he said I could.
He said I was allowed to use a couch instead of the small mat I had brought to sleep upon the floor.
I knew I was dehydrated. I felt weak and helpless and could barely stand up. Exhilarated people were whispering nearby and whenever someone came near me, I felt their pity. It was clear that everyone felt sorry for me.
My friend came to help me get to the couch. We both walked slowly toward the living room and kept running into chairs in the darkness.
I asked her for some water, and she brought me a glass. As I settled upon the couch, the dizzying sensations continued to mount again. I realized my bucket was still next to my lawn chair in the other room and asked her to please bring it to me.
One of the funniest moments happened when she came back and handed me someone else’s bucket with vomit in it. If that didn’t make me want to throw up, then I knew for sure I had a cast iron stomach!
She and I both laughed when I groaned and told her it wasn’t mine.
She returned with my empty bucket and choked back tears as she apologized for my awful experience. I believed her.
I was alone on the sofa and felt better lying down. It seemed like the worst was over. I made sure to be on my side so if I did vomit, I wouldn’t aspirate. That was definitely a real concern the Shaman had mentioned. We were not allowed to lie down during the ceremony.
I tried to doze, but it was difficult because I heard other people whispering about their incredible experiences. I began shivering and realized that my blanket was still in the other room next to my lawn chair. It was a thousand miles away as far as I was concerned; because there was no way I could get there.
I drifted in and out of sleep, and was certain I had outlasted the medicine’s effect after over eight hours of hell.
But it wasn’t over yet . . .
“3 a.m. Friday night”
At least nine hours had gone by since I gulped down the musty ayahuasca brew and I guessed it was around 3 a.m.
This definitely wasn’t the glorious healing experience I had hoped for. Instead, it turned out to be tougher than anything I could have imagined, even though I thought I was prepared for it. Now I was simply relieved that it was finally over.
Most everyone had gone to sleep and it was quiet. I was cold and my legs began to cramp. I stretched myself across the couch, desperately searching for a comfortable position. My mouth was parched and I needed to use the bathroom. Unfortunately, it was too monumental an effort to get there.
I realized it was important for me to hydrate and drink water. I cursed silently as I stretched to reach my cup of water on the floor, only to knock it over. I wished I had a water bottle more than anything else at that moment. I was surprised that there were none to be found anywhere and sorry I hadn’t thought to bring one.
I kept trying to sleep, but whenever I dozed waves of queasy sensations kept jerking me awake.
As the waves continued to disturb my rest, I became angry. I announced to the ayahuasca spirit that I had checked out and wasn’t going to expend any more mental effort to gain something from the medicine. It was enough already and I had reached my limit.
I gleefully told the spirit that I was certain so much time had passed that I had outlasted the medicine’s ability to cast a spell on me. I still thanked the spirit for teaching me so many things.
I kept trying to get comfortable but couldn’t. My stomach hurt from both hunger and queasiness. I was thirsty and had to pee, and tried not to feel disappointed that no one had checked on me.
Time passed as I kept shifting positions in order to get comfortable. I guessed it was now probably six or seven a.m. because the sun began to rise. As sunlight began to fill the room, a strange calmness began to fill my body.
It turned out that even though I thought I had “checked out,” the medicine decided to have it’s way with me. Strange waves of sensations returned.
I was very still and this time I noticed the waves that coursed through my body weren’t painful or nauseating anymore. They were quite different because something had shifted. I began to welcome them and my pain began to ease.
It seemed that just as I had given up any expectation of pleasure, my reward was about to happen after all. Like a sexual climax I began to feel waves of pleasure shooting through my body. I welcomed the relief.
Each wave lasted for at least five minutes. I wondered where it would lead to, as I enjoyed each and every one. The pleasurable sensations were beautiful.
What was interesting was that despite feeling pleasure, I still had the other feelings of discomfort going on. It was then when I had another revelation.
It was hard for me to accept pleasure in my life because there were always so many other things going on that were uncomfortable and painful to distract me. Those things had cast a shadow over my life. Recently, my eyesight had definitely dimmed my joy. I stopped analyzing now because I wanted to enjoy the experience.
Like a dispassionate observer, I imagined I was floating on a beautiful river. Misty waves continued to roll through my body slowly. They were soothing and became stronger and stronger sending chills throughout my body. It was extremely sexual, especially because I had needed to pee for such a long time. After about twenty beautiful minutes there was one especially huge wave that lifted me higher. I felt my body jerk, but I was silent as always. Then the waves gradually subsided and I was blissfully peaceful. I appreciated the calmness more than anything and was so grateful for it.
It turned out that I hadn’t “failed” after all – I actually did get to experience something sweet. Initially, I had anticipated that most of my experience would be a beautiful euphoric sensation of healing, and for some people it is. But for me Ayahuasca involved far more pain than pleasure.
Later on, I found out that my first experience was more common than I realized. It was truly about entering into an unknown world. My healing occurred as a result of dealing with nausea and discomfort that triggered deep introspection and painful realizations, which I was required to unearth from the recesses of my mind.
Habits of thought and stories that I told myself were very hard for me to let go of. Just telling myself not to feel guilty about divorcing simply wasn’t working. The ceremony forced me to face complex feelings in a huge way.
Still, the fact that I experienced pleasure was another important part of my healing. It had been such a long time since I had felt any kind of pleasant feelings; I didn’t realize how deep my depression was. It was wonderful to feel lightness again; I had missed it so much. During the first year of my journey in 2010, I discovered joyfulness through my music after living with grief and sadness for over thirty years. Unfortunately, it was short-lived because for the last two years I carried a heavy load that whittled away at that joy.
My father suffered terribly and we were close; I was very affected by him. I coached him to his death a little over a year ago. At the same time, I watched my mother deteriorate with her dementia – which is still ongoing. I suffered for over a year while trying to find the courage to divorce my husband. And just after I announced my decision, I wasn’t able to move out. I found out I needed cataract surgery and had to be careful about lifting anything. My husband and I still slept in the same bed together for four months and it was an awkward and awful time for both of us. I ended up going through three cataract surgeries and had to deal with unrelenting complications.
I began to process more thoughts about pain and pleasure in order to make sense of it. My guess was that my twenty minutes of pleasure was probably a fraction of what other people experienced. If my pleasurable experience had been any more intense, I could easily imagine it would feel like shooting to god through the universe. But it turned out that the medicine gave me exactly what I needed; pleasure alone wouldn’t have healed my pain and the truth was that I wasn’t ready to accept anything of that magnitude.
I thought about how much satisfaction and joy I often achieved by doing my music – it was like a magical elixir for me. But recently I hadn’t been getting much pleasure from it, because I was far too critical. That needed to change.
I decided I was ready to allow more pleasure back into my life.
“8 a.m. Saturday morning”
I weakly shifted on the couch, and was grateful that I felt much better. I finally had dozed for an hour or two. As I slowly opened my eyes, I saw the same blurs and floaters as usual. My visual problem hadn’t changed and I felt silly imagining I might have been “cured.”
But something had definitely shifted for me. My depression about it was gone.
I laughed when I saw that my blanket had been right next to me the entire night. It was lying on the floor in front of the sofa. I thought it was a thousand miles away, when in truth I could have easily reached it.
People were munching not far away from me in the kitchen. I listened to some of the conversations. Many of them said that the best part of their experience was purging; they found it to be so freeing and beautiful. I wondered why I hadn’t just let myself go, but knew the answer already.
It was interesting how radically different every persons’ experience was. Yet in general, men and women around me glowed and cried about how their life had changed for the better. All of them had experienced earth-shaking visions and out-of-body moments. The primary theme that the Shaman coached everyone with, was to discover pure love. It was love that was intertwined with God and I found it so interesting that my recent song lyrics were about love rescuing me. I wrote those lyrics before I ever contemplated this retreat and once again there was amazing prophecy within my songwriting.
Discovering love that was unconditional brought about my healing. All of the hurt I was carrying about feeling misunderstood and unappreciated dissolved for me. Finally I had connected with self-love and I was ready to nurture myself again.
Every person had brought a contribution of food for the morning. I had brought bananas and figured it would be good for me to attempt to eat one. I was weak and had a thundering headache. I drew from my inner strength and managed to sit up and shuffle to a chair near the kitchen counter. After sipping water for a few minutes, I slowly began chewing on a banana. It had been 24 hours since I’d eaten anything. I hoped it would ease my headache and it did.
I heard the Shaman’s voice. As he walked by, I asked him if headaches were normal. He told me it was probably more than likely that I had one as a result of caffeine withdrawal. It made sense because I had headaches over the three days prior to the ceremony when I gave up coffee.
I felt better and went outside to sit in a garden. The fresh air felt wonderful. As I was sipping tea, I noticed a fairy ornament hanging from a bush in front of me. I smiled and decided she was my own imaginary fairy named “Melody.” I often wrote parables about how Melody comforted and kept me safe. Once again, she had stayed close to me because I heard music playing loudly in my heart again.
A woman came over to me and said, “Can I hug you?” Her hug felt warm and sincere.
I had not changed my mind about leaving early and had already told the Shaman I wasn’t staying for the second night. Several people tried to convince me to stay, but I was resolute. I felt like I was a train wreck. I had no intention of fasting another day in order to go through a second night of an intense ceremony.
I told my ceremony friends that it wasn’t a failed experience for me at all. I had found forgiveness and tremendous insight from Ayahuasca.
Their consensus was that I had just touched the tip of the iceberg. It took 12 hours for me instead of the usual 6 hours because of my resistance. Because I had broken through, the second night would reward me with something more amazing than I could imagine. I had opened the door a crack and now I could soar on through to deeply heal. I smiled and said that I just wasn’t ready to go through that door.
One of my ongoing issues has been that I often do things for other people because I don’t want to disappoint them. This time, I was proud of my inner strength by trusting my decision. I thanked everyone for caring about me, while reserving the right to change my mind someday. And it would probably hinge upon my willingness to throw up.
No one could imagine how blessed I felt. I fully intended to continue on my journey of insight and I looked forward to getting back to enjoying life again with my beautiful music. I also planned to do things differently.
Before I left, the Shaman beckoned me to sit on the floor in front of him so he could “close our ceremony.” He said gently, “Please reconsider staying for the second night. It will completely change your life; you have only just begun to break through.”
Once again, I told him it would be impossible for me. I was relieved that he was willing to give me a refund.
When I asked him when the medicine’s effect would wear off, he said, “It will last for the rest of your life.” I realized I hadn’t phrased my question correctly and smiled at his answer. I had wondered when the drug’s effect would wear off. But nobody there called it a drug.
He knew what I was thinking and added, “It’s not in your system any longer.”
I knelt on the floor across from him. He chanted something and then he inhaled deeply from a pipe. I knew what was coming because I had watched him with the person before me. I held my breath when he bent over my head, let out a little burp and blew a cloud of smoke into my hair. Then, he blew smoke onto his hands and wiped them on my shirt. My queasiness began to return. Now I was taking that pungent odor from the ceremony home with me!
When I reached my car, I sent out a few text messages telling friends and family that I was still alive. Before I drove off, I called my hypnotherapist, Connie, and asked her if I could stop by because I was excited to share my experience with her while it was so fresh. I was touched that she was able to make time for me with no notice.
As I drove, I discovered that my eyes weren’t bothering me like they were before. I was elated. When I reached Connie’s house, I walked unsteadily toward her. She embraced me with a tight hug. I was literally shaking and asked her for some water; she quickly gave me a bottle. I needed it.
We sat together and I couldn’t release details about my experience fast enough. Tears poured down my cheeks as I shared many of my revelations with her. I knew that Connie did not support what I did in any way, shape or form. But she told me that she did not make decisions for her clients; it was up to them. Before the ceremony, we had talked about what my positive intentions were, and I was glad to let her know that I felt far less “stuck” than I had before this experience.
I was certain I had made some real progress toward improving my life.
My journey was going to be exciting for me once again.
I finally connected with my friend who strongly recommended the ayahuasca healing ceremony to me. Last week, she told me that by Monday, my eyes would be shining and the world would look quite different to me. Despite having a grueling experience, I decided she was right. It seemed like the healing ceremony left me with some lasting benefits.
She explained to me again that ayahuasca healing was hard work. We talked about my experience and I let her know there was definitely a positive result for me.
She said, “Judy, this medicine is very powerful. It will continue to work on you. Please allow it to help you. It knows exactly what you require. Work with it; you’ll see more and more benefits. That is the most amazing part of this medicine.”
So it wasn’t out of my system? I began to discover she was right.
Sunday night I went to pick up my youngest son who spent the weekend at his dad’s house. My oldest son joined us so we could all go out to dinner together. I was energetic and exhilarated, which was something I hadn’t felt in a long time.
One thing I noticed was that I wasn’t hungry. I remembered what my friend had said about allowing the medicine to continue helping me. Was this going to be an amazing diet aid now? I loved that thought and planned to really take my excess weight off.
My sons and I ended up at a Subway Sandwich Shop and I ordered a salad. All throughout our dinner I could see my oldest son was upset. There was a lot of bickering going on between him and his brother; they had spent too much time together in close quarters all weekend.
My youngest son (who is 16), said with a glint of humor in his eyes, “Okay mom, I’m just letting you know that I look forward to trying pot. You won’t mind, will you? Because you just tried a drug!”
My oldest son (who is 22), told his brother to shut up. Then his eyes flashed with anger and he said, “Mom, I am really worried about you. Do you realize you might have messed up your brain? What you did this weekend was ridiculous. You could have died or had a bad trip! I don’t think you realize how dangerous drugs are. Next thing I know, you’ll be trying mushrooms or LSD!”
I tried to explain to both my sons about ayahuasca being more like “medicine” and about it’s long history. But it was useless to explain anything. I sounded like a crazy woman.
My sons laughed when I mentioned things the Shaman had said. The entire exchange filled me with embarrassment and I realized it might be best for me not to share much about it to anyone. Except now that it’s on my blog and anyone that reads it knows my innermost thoughts!
My oldest son wanted me to promise that I’d never do it again. I waffled around and told him not to worry about me; I would be careful.
Inside, I was bursting with pride that I had raised such wonderful sons. I really had done such a good job with them.
My Ayahuasca experience so far had yielded many positive benefits and I began to imagine what might happen for some of my friends if they went through an ayahuasca ceremony. For sure, it took a lot of courage. I was certain that anyone reading my story wasn’t going to rush and sign up. But as the benefits began to appear, perhaps that would change.
I laughed when a good friend on Facebook sent me this message: “The next time you feel the need to do another Ayahuasca experience, call me. For $5, I’ll give you a gallon of charcoal water to drink and you can purge to your heart’s content.”
On the Internet, I read many interesting stories about people with severe depression that found tremendous relief from an ayahuasca ceremony. Supposedly, the effect of the medicine was immediate and far more effective than Prozac, which takes at least six weeks to kick in.
Because I felt so much better, it seemed like my brain was now bursting with Serotonin. I walked around feeling happy and began to have more and more signs that my mood truly had shifted.
An example of what ayahuasca has done to me is actually very embarrassing. I probably could hold back what I’m going to share next. But I won’t.
The day after the ceremony I awoke very early. My body was feeling funny. I had strange sensations moving all over me. Oh my god, I discovered I now had an imaginary lover.
It continued happening every morning, waking me up and continuing all day long. It was completely fascinating for me, because it all happened inside my mind. I simply would lie very still and feel things I never imagined. It was quite amazing.
I finally discovered deep breathing! Usually I jumped out of bed to start my day, but I stopped doing that!
As great as this sounds, it became exhausting and a big distraction, especially when I was with other people. I couldn’t control it and it seemed like the ayahuasca medicine had decided this was what I needed in order to heal.–
I was sailing through my day feeling like I had a balloon in my pelvis!
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