So our latest session took place on the night of Monday 28 January into the small hours of Tuesday 29 January. This time I drank 80 mililitres of the brew in a single cup – as against three doses of 25 mililitres each on the previous session. With too small a dose of Ayahuasca it is perfectly possible to have no experience at all; with too large a dose it is possible to have an experience that is completely overwhelming – perhaps far more so that you would like. It is not an exact science and it is complicated further by differences in one’s own body chemistry from day to day that can result in widely varying effects.
I’m here together with a group of more than a dozen people and, as in previous retreats for serious work with Ayahuasca that I’ve participated in over the last ten years it is noticeable how close and trusting of one another we have become. The Ayahuasca experience has a very special way of doing this – of opening the heart and breaking down barriers so that you feel intense empathy and a deep connection with others at a level that is near to impossible in the often angry, often competitive, frequently loveless hustle and bustle and grind of daily life. It is a great privilege to be able to know this empathy and connection and reminds me that all of life could be like this should we consciously set out and be willing to do the work make it so. It is not oil, or water, or mineral deposits, or food, or land, or any other economic resource that is truly scarce or precious or “running out” in this bountiful Earth of ours. What we are short of as a global species, what we seem reluctant to manifest, what we are failing to express and act out, is simply love, and in a way this should be the easiest problem in the world for us to solve – for it is within the capacity and the power of each and every one of us to give love if we choose to do so.
It is SUCH a good feeling just to lay down the barriers of suspicion and fear and self interest and trust others completely and know that the trust is shared and that the love you put out is the love you get back.
Mercifully as I have become more experienced with Ayahuasca during the past ten years I find that I vomit less and less, and usually not at all – although I do still suffer episodes of nausea.
After 45 minutes I felt I was ready to lie down and stretched out on my mattress. Music is a constant accompaniment of our sessions here – the shaman sensing intuitively the needs and mood and individual journeys of the members of the group and adjusting the playlist and his own instrumentals and vocals accordingly. He practices within the Peruvian, Shipibo tradition (though these ceremonies are taking place in Brazil) and at the point where I lay down he had begun to sing a series of Icaros (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Icaro), traditional songs that provide an excellent waveguide into the profound meditative state that Ayahuasca can bring, or, equally Ariadne’s threads that can help to lead us out of labyrinths we might prefer not to find ourselves in.
These days I rarely go into an Ayahuasca session without some fear and this has much to do with a terrifying session on pure (smoked) DMT that I had in the United States in 2011 (described here:http://www.grahamhancock.com/forum/HancockG3.php). The Ayahuasca experience is not the same as the DMT experience, even though DMT is the primary active ingredient of Ayahuasca, but sometimes a strong Ayahuasca journey will plunge me squarely back into what I think of as DMT space. I feel vulnerable there, sometimes unprotected by the kindly, healing spirit of the vine, and my fear derives from this sense of raw exposure to elemental intelligences.
I suppose an hour had passed when I first became definitely aware of the effects of the brew in the form of intense visuals, seen best (even in the darkness) with my eyes closed. They took shape at first, as they often do, as swirling patterns of deep, richly-saturated colours, but almost from the first moment they had the slightly menacing undertones of my 2011 DMT trip. How can I describe them? Patches of colour all joined to one another, here purple, here ochre, here a strange, deep brownish-red, here a luminescent green, here blue – each patch about the size of a human hand and shaped into oblique, rhomboidal geometric forms, and all joined together in a meaningful swirling dance. This was not simply the entertaining pattern flow of a kaleidoscope. The patterns radiated intelligence, sentience, intent, and I felt my fear rise up another notch and at the same time I exercised my will and said to myself “I will not be afraid; I will journey into this without hesitation and see where it leads me.” As soon as I had made that decision I felt my fear subside and I journeyed deeper and then out of the patterns, and – formed out of them – appeared the beautiful, glittering, sinuous form of a serpent seeming to radiate compassion and concern for me and I sensed the presence of the great spirit, mother goddess of our planet, who I think of as Mother Ayahuasca, and I felt her healing energy. She worked on me for some time, swirling around my body, fixing parts of me that were broken, right down to the deepest level of my DNA and of my psyche.
At this point it was all extremely gentle. I saw faces that I did not recognize. A great bird, a raptor of some kind, took wing amidst a nimbus of supernal light. The serpent became a jaguar. And still I was not afraid and I began to think – well, this is going to be fine. My 80 mililitre cup was just right, just enough to enter healing visionary space but not so much that the visions would overwhelm me and swallow me up. And as is often the case with Ayahuasca the visions came and went in waves – sometimes quite intense, sometimes falling away almost to nothingness.
I drifted into thoughts about my relationship with my wife Santha, how I am so blessed to have her in my life, how she is in fact a goddess who has incarnated in human form and how incredibly privileged I am that she permits me to go through this incarnation with her and learn from her how to be a better human being. And I realized how so much of our life together has been very selfishly about ME, about my work, my creativity, my concerns, and it was brought home to me with the force of a revelation that the next stage of our partnership has to be about HER and that my role now is to be of service to her and help her in every way possible to express and manifest her own wonderful creative gifts and to fulfill herself.
I spent some time in the presence of our children – Santha and I have six children between us, all young adults now, and they are a tremendous blessing to us and the light and joy of our lives. And I thought about how wonderful and full of love they all are, and what good people they are, and I reflected on the struggles and challenges they face, and the elegant, generous spirit in which they are all maturing and developing and travelling their own journeys.
It would be a good thing, I couldn’t help thinking, if every military leader, every religious fanatic, every president, every prime minister, every dictator presently exercising power in the world today were to be required to undergo ten sessions of Ayahuasca before being allowed to make a single other decision.
By this point in my journey my head seemed completely clear. I thought the visions had stopped. I gave thanks that nothing too terrifying had happened to me and I got up and walked around for a while. As I was walking, however, a new wave of visions descended on me like a storm and I retreated once again to my mattress where the next phase of my night’s journey began.
I was immediately in the presence of the entity I saw when I last smoked DMT in 2011 and who I think of as “the Trickster” or “the Magician” or “the Sorcerer” and whose aura, quite unlike that of Mother Ayahuasca, is entirely male. I do not know who this entity is or where he comes from. It is perfectly possible that he is simply one of the many transformations of Mother Ayhuasca herself – and indeed the healing female spirit that many of us experience through the brew is construed as male by a number of traditional cultures in the Amazon rainforest.
My feelings of fear were very strong now, quite overwhelming and I wanted to flee, to run away from this scene, to open my eyes wide and stop the visions, but again I exercised my will, placed myself under control and stayed put and let this magnificent, terrifying, cosmogenic dance unfold before me. I could not banish the fear entirely but I began to realize that perhaps there is nothing to be afraid of here and then just as this became clear to me I was overtaken by a giant wave of nausea and had to shuffle round on my mattress and bring up my bucket to my face (we all have buckets) in case I would vomit.
In the event I didn’t vomit and after a few moments the nausea began to subside, and then Santha, who was beside me, suggested that we go out into the middle of the floor and dance. Sensing the change in mood our shaman began to play rhythmic, vital, energizing music and other couples and individuals joined us in the clear area of wooden floor at the centre of the room and I felt no pain whatsoever in my severely osteo-arthritic hip on which I am due to undergo surgery in April, and we danced and danced and were overtaken by joy and the celebration of the magnificent and generous and precious, precious gift of life.
For those who missed the previous two articles in this series I paste them in below:
ARTICLE 1, SATURDAY 26 JANUARY:
Santha and I are in Brazil after a long flight cramped up in the back of a British Airways 747. The seats seem to have been designed like the medieval torture called “Little Ease” where it is impossible to find comfort in any position. I’m due to have my right hip replaced in April and spent the 12-hour journey in something approaching excruciating pain. What a relief to arrive into the Brazilian summer and be able to stretch my legs!
Now we’re at the retreat where I had the extraordinary experiences in October 2011 that I described here a few days ago in a status update (“Giving up the Green Bitch: Reflections on Cannabis, Ayahuasca and the Mystery of Plant Teachers”). In the coming weeks, together with our shaman and a group of a dozen other people, we will participate in a series of Ayahuasca sessions. As well as drinking the sacred Amazonian brew, and learning the lessons it has to teach me this time around, I will be presenting several talks to the group on various aspects of my work. The other presenter here is the renowned ethnopharmacologist Dennis McKenna, brother of the late, great Terence McKenna. I first got to know Dennis well during a lecture tour that we did together in Australia last year and am looking forward to renewing the acquaintance and to the further deep connection that shared journeys with Ayahuasca always bring. If you haven’t read it yet I urge you to get hold of a copy of Dennis’s new book, “The Brotherhood of the Screaming Abyss”, about his life with his remarkable brother Terence, see here: http://www.grahamhancock.com/promotions/McKennaD1/McKennaD1.php.
So yesterday we rested, relaxed and recovered from the long flights we’d all made to get here (the other participants come from as far afield as the Middle East, Australia, and the US). Today, Saturday, the work begins with the first all-night Ayahuasca session. I have some trepidation – as Dennis puts it anyone who approaches deep work with Ayahuasca without at least some trepidation doesn’t really know the brew. But I have made a sincere effort since October 2011 to implement the changes in my life and outlook that Mother Ayahuasca required of me (see here for the status update referred to above which I’ve now posted as an article on my website:
I am hoping to be handled gently by Ayahuasca this time and to experience beautiful visions, healing, inspiration and love.
Above all love.
That, I know from long experience, is the essence of the intelligence behind the vine.
I’ll report back tomorrow.
- ARTICLE 2, SUNDAY 27 JANUARY:
So, Santha and I are in Brazil for a series of sessions with Ayahuasca, the sacred visionary brew of the Amazon. “Ayahuasca” means “the Vine of the Dead” or “the Vine of Souls.” It is given this name for a number of very good reasons. One is that it can allow the experience of contact with those who have passed on. I make no claims here as to the reality status of that experience, although I do have an opinion. Another is that aspects of it are so similar to some of the well-known features of the near-death experience, notably a life-review, that some feel it may provide us with a dress-rehearsal for death itself and for whatever we may encounter when we pass beyond the veil. Again, while I have my own opinion I make no specific claims here as to the “reality” of such experiences. I give some further thoughts on this in my article “Giving up the Green Bitch” posted here some days ago as a status:http://www.grahamhancock.com/forum/HancockG3.php
Last night’s session was very mild, and for many in the group it was not visionary at all. This is sometimes the case with Ayahuasca; one should not go into a session with expectations of seamlessly convincing and overwhelming visions. Often the brew will give you these, but not always, and not reliably. Last night, however, there was an additional factor of uncertainty and this was that the maestros had provided a new batch of the brew that they believed to be very strong and which was indeed thicker and more syrupy than the brew we normally drink here in Brazil. It reminded me in its consistency of the very concentrated brew, sometimes with bits of plant matter floating in it, usually offered by Peruvian shamans (where, accordingly, rather small cups – about 25 mililiters -- are the norm). At our Brazilian retreat on the other hand it is the practise to offer a less concentrated brew but in larger doses and in past visits here I have frequently drunk cups of 100 or 150 and sometimes even 200 mililiters.
Because last night’s brew was new, and was said to be strong, our shaman proposed cups of just 25 mililiters or less for each of us and we would then discover its strength, or otherwise, for ourselves. If it was not as strong as expected we could always drink a “booster” cup after an hour and a half or so.
The effect was not strong and after 90 minutes almost the entire group queued up for a booster, again of 25 mililiters. Still in my case this had no – or almost no – effect and I began to contemplate a third cup. This is not an exact science and it is never good to be too eager with Ayahuasca. In other words you can go for a booster after experiencing no effect with the first cup only to discover that it was merely slow kicking in and that suddenly, with the booster, you have had more than you want. So I waited a while but when it was clear I was still not entering the Ayahuasca realm I did go for a third cup. So three cups, each of 25 mililiters, making 75 mililiters in total.
There was no purging – i.e. (apologies for being graphic) neither I nor anyone else in the group vomited last night. This is most unusual although I have found as the years go by that I do purge far less than I used to when I started out. But within half an hour of drinking my third small cup I did gradually begin to enter visionary space. These visions were mild, and a little “flat” or two-dimensional by comparison with other fully-immersive visions I have experienced in the past. The visions were of intricate geometrical and cursive patterns presented as though on separate individual cards, but when I studied each card the patterns proved to be in movement and resolved into the forms of entities, rather scary in appearance, and I felt somewhat menaced. Go to Google Images, search “Codex Borgia” and/or “Codex Nuttal” and you may get some inkling of the atmosphere, if not the exact details, of these images. I felt myself to be in the presence of intelligence and I tried to focus on that intelligence, rather than be repelled by the menacing images and in due course moved on to the next stage of the journey in which I was filled by powerful feelings of empathy and compassion for my fellow human beings.
These feelings began with reflections on the other members of our group who I had begun to get to know, and whose stories I had heard, over the past two days. Often in my daily life I become absorbed selfishly in my own immediate worries and concerns, certain problems and issues that are confronting me which seem to loom large, and matters that are causing me emotional or spiritual pain. I am incredibly privileged and live a blessed life yet still I find reasons to feel victimised or hard done by and sorry for myself! In an instant last night I was shown how ridiculous and self-indulgent and uncalled-for such feelings are as I reflected on what I knew of the difficulties and challenges, and real worries and pain that members of our group, in their own ways are confronting bravely and without complaint in their own lives. I thought of some cases in particular, the strength, the dignity, the good will, the cheerfulness in adversity, of certain individuals, and I felt myself brimming over with compassion and love and admiration for them. And it came home to me in a real and immediate way that each one of us here on earth, not only the members of the immediate group surrounding me in the Ayahuasca session, but every one of the billions of my fellow humans going through this incarnation in this time are bright and luminous individual flames of light – each with his or her own special gifts and creativity and imagination, each with his or her own strengths and weaknesses – and every one of us faces challenges and difficulties, and ordeals and pain and is confronted daily by defining choices, some small, some momentous, that write the pages of the stories of our lives.
And the only right response is gratitude, gratitude, gratitude to the universe for working the high magic that has made it possible for us to travel the path of human experience, and to learn and practice love.