Since many of our travels are curtailed by COVID-19 and visa restrictions, rather than wait, I decided to take a trip in the other direction: inside my mind.
I had my first experience with the ayahuasca plant here in Mexico. Actually, I had two, one week apart.
If you are not familiar with ayahuasca, it is a South American plant that has been used for centuries by shamans and mystics to explore the inner workings of our minds. It has been compared to psychedelics, like acid and mescaline, but after my first two experiences, I can tell you it is not. It is truly a life-altering plant that can open up the inner spirit and eliminate a lot of bad energy.
The first time I got high on pot was just before my 14th birthday. Over the next handful of years I indulged, but never to excess, and tried other assortments, including psychedelics. My few experiences with LSD, mescaline, and mushrooms were all very positive. Nothing to be fearful of; great enlightenment, but none of them compelled me to continue using them.
I was told about the ayahuasca plant several years ago by my young business associate who had experimented with it a few times. He and I were alike and on a journey to understand ourselves and how our minds work, and how sometimes it did NOT work as we wanted. The plant's effects are not psychedelic, but it does affect the body and senses in a similar way. It has more similarities to mushrooms and their cousin, peyote.
Many use psychedelics as a way to take a "trip," but with ayahuasca you do not take anything: you experience it. It is usually referred to in the feminine and it is all consuming. She takes over your entire body, especially your stomach and digestive system, one of the beauties and uglies of this amazing plant.
I was told in advance that throwing up was a natural byproduct of the plant, which is stripped off the vine, then boiled, and mixed in very specific ways. It is not a plant to be abused or ill-prepared. It can have dire effects, and traditionally has only been administered by the shamen who have been trained, usually for their entire lives, just for this purpose. There was preparation before we actually drank the liquid, and mindset is critical. Various ingredients are eaten and absorbed by the body, plus the shaman pours potions over our heads to cleanse us.
Back to the vomiting, which is not just a physical reaction, but also a psychological one, as your entire body tries to purge all negative emotions, bad behaviors, and any bad memories that have been retained for decades—sometimes for our entire lives. Before starting the process, which can be intimidating and scary, it is important for us to understand our intentions as to what we wish to receive, since that is what we will get.
For me personally, it was painfully brought to my attention that I have some old bad habits. Like many, they probably go back to childhood and parental issues, and that can range from the minimal to the extreme. My intention was to be less selfish, listen better, and pay attention, which may be the same issues that many of us face.
My girlfriend and I have been living in Mexico since March 2020, after traveling the world for the prior two years. Like many, the virus stopped our travels and prevented us from even visiting nearby countries in Central and South America. We discovered one of our neighbors made cannabis treats, and we have indulged on some of her delicious brownies and body salves, both of which we found to be beneficial.
She occasionally went into "The Jungle," and did ayahuasca with Grandfather. Grandfather, in this sense, is an older, wiser man, in many cases a shaman, as this one was. I told her I was interested in joining her and after several months the stars finally aligned.
The jungle was actually a cloister of small cabins and homes in a beautiful jungle setting. Well-manicured and rustic, it had all the conveniences we needed. I arrived Saturday evening about 5:00 p.m. with my backpack and second bag carrying the items that I needed for the ceremony. That included a blanket, pillow, water, and, since it may be needed, a bucket.
Being the only person that did not speak Spanish felt a bit uncomfortable, but the people in the small group of seven persons were friendly, and most spoke a modicum of English to help me feel more at ease. Prior to starting, the shaman and I, plus a translator, sat down and discussed exactly what we needed to.
What were my intentions? I told him, he listened intently, and shook his head in agreement. Martin, a young man in his forties, carried a lot of ancient wisdom in a young body. It just permeated through his soul.
While we were talking he was also licking a black tar-like material off the top of his hand and taking spoonfuls of green powder out of a bag and dumping it into his mouth. I had no idea what they were, but was told that they were two ingredients that many shamans use prior to the ceremony.
One is called ambil, which is a black tobacco tar, and the other is mambe, which is made from cocoa leaf and yaruma ash. They are designed to loosen the senses and open your body to receive a new experience. This was explained to us since all the participants also indulged in them.
The paste tasted a bit like charcoal, but not offensive and was reasonably easy to manage. The green cocoa powder was much more problematic since it was so fine, and as soon as I put it in my mouth, it all clumped together. I was told that the process involved using your tongue to manipulate it into a ball on the side of your cheek, and while that dissolved, to lick the ambil. We were also required to take a shower and pour a very specific herbal liquid over our bodies.
We started about 9:00 p.m., and over several hours listened to music which they played on a flute and drum, plus we had heavy conversations.
We spoke about the recent hurricanes we had in this area, and discussed our experiences and the symbolism it might represent. On my second visit one week later, we talked about the Covid virus and all the ramifications of that. Our talks were deep and thought-provoking over several hours, and as we approached midnight, we all prepared for the actual ceremony.
Someone lowered the lights and just a few flickering candles remained. We were individually called up as we took a little plastic cup full of ayahuasca liquid, drank it slowly, and followed it with a few sips of water. We then returned to our spaces on the floor as we each took our successive turns. We were told that if we felt nothing in 45-60 minutes then we should return for a second dose.
On my first visit I did not feel anything in the first hour, so returned for that second helping. The next week I felt the effects in about 20 minutes. They were both similar, yet different.
As I lay there with my eyes closed in silence, a series of geometric patterns entered my consciousness. They looked like polyhedrons and tetrahedrons and were connected by bridges. It was later explained to me that what I was seeing was called sacred geometry, and is reflected in many structures, temples, and churches worldwide. It is believed to be spiritually directed from above.
Over the next hour or so my mind went into an assortment of directions, including seeing brightly colored visions of statues of people and animals floating above me. Each time I took the potion, I did have occasion to vomit.
As I laid there, I was torn between letting it go and holding it in, and finally had to recognize that this whole process was about release, so once I went outside and heaved onto the ground, and the second time used the toilet. Within a few minutes I was done, and with staggered footsteps I found my way back to my floor space. Each time I did vomit a second time, once in quick succession and the second time for a much longer, much more violent time...When we were asked if we were ready for a second dose, I joined in, along with everyone else.
That second dose put me back into my trance after a very short while, as I continued my inward journey. Over the course of the evening time moved in many different directions. What I thought was taking a long time actually took no time at all. And some things that I thought happened quickly took much longer. This back-and-forth time disorientation continued until the effects of the medicine dissipated close to sunrise.
During our evening, the shaman brought the women to the front of the room and sat them on the couch, as he performed a maternal blessing over them. This included chanting, singing, and dancing, and the floor beneath my body reverberated. Watching this in the flickering candlelight took on a surreal, strobe-like effect. I lay there shuttering with cold, and heard myself chanting and hyperventilating with no control. The demons, which were firmly embedded inside me, did not want to let go from their comfortable home, as the ladies soon returned to their individual spots.
They placed a blanket over me to keep me warm, and shortly after called me and the other men up to perform another ritual, specifically for men. We sat on the couch as the shaman stood before us chanting, singing, foot pounding and pouring liquids over our heads, which seemed like something from a movie, yet I saw the purpose in it and realized the intention behind it. This series of exercises with just us men seemed to take just a short time, but afterwards saw that it lasted 90 minutes.
After each individual experience I felt different physically, not well at all, and that, plus the lack of solid sleep, put me in a stupor as I finally returned home. Since I had been fasting for over 24 hours, I ate some mild food and crashed out to recover.
The first time I used the ayahuasca I felt poorly, with mild nausea, for several days. A few days afterward I developed a major case of hiccups and had several episodes during the day. One lasted more than two hours and could not be contained. I was able to relieve the hiccups by forcing myself to vomit, which I did, and took that as a signal that my body still needed to purge.
My first experience produced physical discomfort, and as the end of the week grew near, I had to give serious consideration as to whether I was ready to do it again. In hindsight, I am very glad that I did.
On my second journey, I felt terrific the next day and was able to eat normal food. The physical effects were not as severe, but the emotional effects were treacherous, as I found myself in a very uncomfortable place with my girlfriend, and instead of purging in a physical way, I purged in an emotional sense. I'm not sure which was more painful, but they were both cathartic in their own ways.
I am realizing that the ayahuasca did things that I was not conscious of. Some of those old behaviors, those old pains, those old heartaches, that were firmly attached to the inside of my person, fought hard to stay where they were, and had to be forcefully wrenched loose. It was a painful process, but beneficial and for the good. The ayahuasca, also known as yage or daime, plants a seed in our bodies. She continues to grow and nurture us, and actually changes the way we view things, including ourselves.
Trying to describe the ayahuasca experience is challenging since it is different for everyone, and even for me it will be different every time I do it, and yes, I will do it again. This journey inside ourselves is endless, and even at the age of 66, I still do not understand many things about myself. Some of those old habits that developed while I was still a child continue to tug at me.
I love traveling and miss it immensely, but this inner perceptive journey was just as fulfilling as some of the outward journeys we took throughout the world over several years. Those physical journeys will absolutely continue, and my interior journey, to find my inner soul, will continue as well.
Norm Bour left the USA permanently in February 2019 at the age of 64. His goal was to travel the world six weeks at a time, which he did, and wrote a book about his experiences. Over 14 months he visited 23 countries along with taking 36 plane trips. Norm was motivated by the Millennial generation who make travel look so easy, so he teaches fellow Boomers how to "travel like a Millennial." You can follow his journey at www.TravelYounger.com along with his Facebook blog by the same name.
Sobering Shamanism from Peru's Visionary Tea - Bruce Northam
The Shaman of San Regis - James Michael Dorsey
Calling Ancestors Through the Butterflies in Guatemala - Tim Leffel
Dancing With the Dead in Benin - James Michael Dorsey
See other Mexico travel stories from the archives
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