“Memento Mori” – “Remember that you shall die” whispered the servant into the ear of the victorious Roman general, as he rode through the jubilant throngs of his people.
I awoke sometime around four in the morning. As my eyes started to open, I was shocked when I found myself in this strange, vast room. “Oh that’s right… I fell asleep here.” It was beautifully serene. It was also the last night of the full moon. I looked around the room and could see a few bodies still lying there. Most people had retired to their rooms. I decided to get up and head back to my room. As I opened the doors of the maloca I was absolutely blown away by the beauty and majesty of the rainforest around me. The long walkway winded its way through the trees, which were awash with the beautiful luminescence of the moon’s light. Everything seemed so… alive, as was I. I couldn’t help but stop several times along the walk back, and just stand and stare and listen and breathe. “Life is really beautiful” I thought. “How the hell did I forget this? Why have I been so focused on all that is wrong in the world when there exists THIS?” A smile cracked across my face as the realisation of how stupid I had been truly sank in.
In my younger days I had been intensely spiritual. As I mentioned earlier, I was a young atheist, and I found great joy in the natural world without need of the idea that somehow “God created it.” As the famous mathematician LaPlace said to Napoleon upon being asked why God was not referenced in his works, “Sire, I had no need for that equation.” I can remember as a child, sitting high up in the branches of tall trees and just, well… being present. Seeing the insects scurry around, listening to the birds sing, running my hands over the tree bark, smelling the beautiful aromatic tropical air… that was enough for me. But some way, somehow, as my days went faster and my life got more complicated, I lost that. I lost that feeling of magic and beauty. A rock was merely a rock. A tree, just another tree in a field of green. I failed to find joy in every day things. I got so caught up in the political struggles of the world. I used to chide those that didn’t know what was going on in the world, rebuking them, as if the mere knowledge of how fucked up the world is would somehow make a difference. How wrong I was.
I allowed personal conflicts to work their way deep into my heart, where they made a home there, and stung me whenever they pleased. I carried my anger and sorrow and torment into every single interaction I had. I had become so so sadly lost and angry. “Where’s the magic in the world now?!” I used to scream to myself. Even as I write this, silent tears fall down my face when I remember what a dark and haunted place I found myself in. I used to think back to my childhood forlornly, wishing I could find him once again. That sweet child who loved the world and cared for the universe and all the creatures and plants in it. I missed him so badly.
There, on the walkway, I felt peace for the first time in so many years. A crack started to appear in the cave that I had buried my heart in, and the moonlight shone through. “Follow the light” I whispered to myself. “Follow it, Dan. He’s there somewhere.” I walked back to my room, where my room mate was still fast asleep, and rested for a little while. As I tucked myself into bed I thought to myself “6 years. 6 fucking years of research, and even all that couldn’t prepare myself for last night.” It was true. Despite all the different drugs I had encountered in my life, there truly was nothing that in any way shape or form could have readied me for the experience.
At 6:45, we awoke and made our way to the Ayahuasca prep area, which was situated half way between the maloca and the rooms. Here, we were given jobs to do. I thought it was fantastic that we were actually involved in the process of making it because as someone else said, it was a great way of putting our intentions into the medicine. I took on the job of pounding the ayahuasca vines. The vines were cut into lengths of less than one foot long, and my job was to use a mallet and smash it open. Others did different jobs, such as scraping the bark off some of the other trees that we were dieting. Everyone had something to do. Once everything was done, the vines were collected on the plastic mats, and then rearranged so that they bordered the mat.
Malcolm went around and blessed the aya with mapacho smoke. They took some time in explaining the process. When everything was blessed, the vines went into 9 steel vats which were blackened on the bottom from lots of use. The leaves of the chacruna tree then followed. The active component of ayahuasca actually comes from the chacruna, which has a lot of Dimethytryptamine, or DMT for short, however if you were to ingest that on its own, there would be little to no effect, as the enzymes in the stomach would break it down. This is where the ayahuasca vine comes in, for it has within it a MAOI inhibitor, which prevents the breakdown of DMT.
After the chacruna came the rest of the diet plants, all eight in total, which were carefully divided and placed in the 9 vats. They also added in the aya which we consumed the night before, thus keeping on the unbroken cycle of medicine. The fire was lit, and it would be at least 8 hours before the ayahuasca would be ready.
The call for breakfast was a birdlike, whistling noise made by the Peruvian staff. In my short time in Peru, I had learned that whistling was a legitimate form of communication used by many. People whistled all the time. We got ourselves cleaned up from the aya prep and made our way to the chow hall. I can’t really remember much about that breakfast except that I felt happy, and was sharing experiences of last night with those around me. After breakfast we had another talk from Malcolm. He talked a bit about what we would have experienced the night before, then spoke of the intentions going forward. I found myself slightly less restless during this talk, but I was still keen to get out of there as soon as possible. I have never enjoyed sitting still. Never. I like to move around, and not be confined at all. The talk was done, and we all drifted off.
Some people sat around outside and talked, and some retired to their rooms to rest more. Ayahuasca is an incredibly draining experience, it must be said. Your energy levels drop quite significantly, due, I suppose to the amount of “work” that you’re doing internally. Just like a caterpillar in its chrysalis, I suppose. I went to be with my own thoughts for a while, to process what went on the night before. I wanted to think my way through the lessons learned.
The first thing that came into my mind was obviously the fear that I had experienced. It was quite terrifying. I consider myself a fairly brave and adventurous individual that barely flinches at most things that other people tend to run away screaming from, but when I thought back to those maddening moments, a true feeling of dread came across me. The demons and spirits were definitely there to show me the futility of my ridiculous pursuit of power, money, and status. The “excesses”, as the spirits told me. Seeing those excesses in such a visual manner as I had was very confronting, and it really made me that much more aware of how I had been chasing those things on such a subconscious level. I have never been one that lusted after flashy things. I could think of so many people that I knew who were, and still are, actively and consciously engaged in the pursuit of those things, and in many ways, I have always looked down on them. But that morning as I sat there and pondered, I came to realise how pervasive these ideas are. It’s like cryptic marketing messages that large brands do to lure you into their grasp. I had allowed myself to be bought, and I wasn’t happy with it at all. My convertible sports car all of a sudden felt cheap and nasty. “It’s because I love driving fast!” I had told myself long ago, while justifying its purchase. Well, maybe it was more than just that. I thought of all the women that I had subconsciously lured into my life by dressing a certain way and having certain things. Were they really there because they wanted me for my personality, or was it too, more than just that?
A wretched lothario I had become. So much so that it disgusted me to even think of it. How desperate I had been for the need for intimacy and the baring of skin upon skin. It somehow validated me, and made me feel like I was still okay. “What a fucking phoney you’ve been, Dan. Little Dan would be most upset with what you’ve become.” I had been using sex to self medicate, and had been using alcohol to numb the pain, as well as to get me to that happy place where I would be able to charm women more easily. I realised too, that I truly had been living a life of excess. Nothing was ever enough. It was always more of this and more of that. More booze, more ecstacy, more parties, more girls. “How fucking pathetic.” I thought to myself. “No wonder she left me.”
After I was done chiding myself, I started to think of the last part of the experience, where I had seen the most amazing things. Those alien worlds… I still find it a struggle to find human words to express the beauty, complexity and strangeness of those worlds. In retrospect I see now, that that was like a chill-out experience that mother Ayahuasca gave me, so I could see how much I didn’t know about this universe; about how frightfully tiny I am in the grand scheme of things. It felt like, after the initial handshake was done, I was brought into the lounge to just space out and enjoy. I felt grateful for that, and I was hoping to see more such beauty on the following nights.
I was interrupted from my thoughts by the call to lunch. Our lunch was incredibly simple. Rice and fish. The fish, as I had mentioned earlier, was an incredibly ancient fish whose main defence against being eaten was to obviously grow a fuck load of bones; making eating it a divine practise in patience. Every single damn mouthful felt like it consisted of more bones than flesh. I gave up using cutlery pretty quickly and used my fingers to try and separate the flesh from bone. The meal was followed by a most awful tasting drink. It was made from the root of a plant whose name I forget. Blended vigorously then moistened by hot water, this had a truly awful taste and complexion as I glugged it down. I learned to hate that drink pretty quickly. We talked amongst ourselves for a while longer, before heading off to do whatever it is that we wanted to do.
At 4:30, we met in the maloca once more, for the first of the teas that we would receive. Every day from today onwards we would meet at this time to drink a tea made from the blend of the 8 plants we were dieting. The tea ceremony was conducted in the same manner as ayahuasca; with everyone being called one by one, intentions and icaros whistled into the drink to imbue us with healing energy. After the tea, a little more time to kill before session 2 of our Ayahuasca began. I used this time to do some writing. I had initially planned on writing every day, but I found out then day just how hard it was. Not only was I tired to the point that my creative juices just weren’t flowing, but I also found it so hard to write anything at all, as I felt as if my mind were still stuck in another dimension. The best I could do was to jot down very simple notes on what had happened, and even that was rather hard for me.
TO BE CONTINUED
P.S. Dedicated to the young Gustafson. Never stop dreaming. Never.