Special Guest Writer for Wake Up World
These five letters, originally written as status updates for my Facebook community, describe a series of sessions with Ayahuasca, the “Vine of Souls”, that I participated in in Brazil in January and February 2013. They are written in real time and reflect the changing dynamics of these unusual experiences over a period of two weeks.
Something very strange happened in sessions four and five, something sinister that I could not have anticipated from my previous work with Ayahuasca, and looking back through the whole sequence of letters now I am struck by how it took me, and others, by surprise and how we at first sought to intellectualize it and even explain it away.
Letters From the Far Side of Reality
Letter 1, Friday 25 January 2013
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 extraordinary experiences with Ayahuasca in October 2011. In the coming weeks, together with a group of a dozen other people and our facilitator (who resists being called a shaman despite his enormous depth of experience), 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/grapevine/McKennaD1/McKennaD1.php.
So yesterday, Friday 24 January, 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 25 January, 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. I’m hoping to be handled gently 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.
Letter 2, Saturday 26 January 2013
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.
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 facilitator 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 grow and develop in the process, and to practise love.