Chapter Eight – Ayahuasca

     There are certain conditions that western medicine seems ill-equipped to deal with, as very often the symptoms are treated but not the cause. Within our own family we found ourselves with a life or death situation on our hands, urgent healing was needed and conventional approaches had failed miserably. One thing that comes with spiritual awakening is a desire to re-research the nature of everything you have been educated to believe, because the conditioning has been broken and the search for truth becomes paramount. This search had brought me into awareness of ayahuasca, the legendary and highly potent plant drink central to the shamanic practices of the Amazon. In recent years, ayahuasca has been shown to be particularly efficacious in curing many conditions, from diseases to addictions, that western medicine seems to be struggling with. I was convinced that our best hope lay with ayahuasca and so to this end we set off on a great healing journey to Peru. Out of respect for the privacy of other family members, I will share here only my own personal experiences during the ceremonies.

   I have to say that I was very nervous about taking ayahuasca. Up to this point in my life I had never taken any mind altering substances (although they are readily available in the world of professional music), I didn’t smoke cigarettes, I had never even smoked a joint, and here I was about to drink one of the most powerful hallucinogenic potions known to man!

   As soon as the decision to go to Peru was made it became clear that ayahuasca knew we were coming, many signs were given and my dreams took a very shamanic twist. First a wild boar came, he was huge and terrifying but he came to me peacefully. Then I saw a pig-man facing up aggressively to a boar-man. In between these therianthropes was a green-faced shaman. I saw this as my domestic self versus my wild self, ordinary reality versus non-ordinary reality, in between these two, my shaman self. In another dream a shaman stood by my bed peering through jungle foliage with a beautiful green spider by his head.

   It took a lot of research and planning to go on this ayahuasca journey but all the signs were in favour of it. I remember standing outside looking at the sky and asking, am I doing the right thing? The clouds formed clearly into the forms of a man and woman dancing. A couple of nights before we left for Peru I had a very shamanic dream. I saw a woodland glade; first a hare ran through it, then a deer and finally a one antlered stag. The next day my dog Dougal came into the garden with the antlers of a small deer in his mouth, I kept them, a second shamanic gift from the universe after the dragon skin. Antlers are also associated with the shedding of skin. The next morning I looked out of the bathroom window to see a stag only a few meters away in the field. I have seen deer many times, before and since, but this was the only time the stag has shown himself. The night before we were to go to the ayahuasca retreat I was sharing a hotel room with my stepson. In the early hours of the morning he woke up and said that he’d had the strangest dream. He had seen a great stag standing in a woodland glade with light shining down upon him. I knew then for sure that this was right, as I had shared nothing of my recent dreams and experiences with him.

   Ayahuasca is one of the most powerful expressions of divinity on the planet and potentially one of the holiest experiences a person can have. Ayahuasca is a ‘tea’ (not the kind you get biscuits with!) made from the ayahuasca vine, chacruna and often a number of other plants as well, depending on the shaman’s personal preference. The chacruna contains a high content of dymethletriptamime (DMT), which is the psychoactive component in the brew. It is often said that DMT is produced by the pineal gland in humans but this has not been scientifically proven yet. It has however been found in human cerebrospinal fluid and this may certainly go some way to explain why kundalini awakened people may have visionary experiences comparable to those given by ayahuasca without taking the entheogen. 

   Ayahuasca is an MAOI inhibiter, meaning it stops the enzyme that normally neutralises DMT in our stomachs from working. The vine itself does not contain DMT and if taken by itself does not give much of an effect but yet, it is considered the primary spiritual component of the brew. The vine itself is the medium for the spirit of ayahuasca to manifest, she is the goddess, the divine feminine expressing herself in plant spirit form and sometimes called, La Madre, The Mother. The ayahuasca vine is a wonderful example of the doctrine of signatures. She is a snake-like liana that wraps herself around a tree. This is nature expressing the kundalini around the spine and a seldom realised fact is that ayahuasca is plant kundalini, but only a kundalini awakened person familiar with the feeling of the energy and the channels it travels in the body is likely to recognise this.

   Personally, I feel that the best way to enter into communion responsibly and respectfully with ayahuasca, is to undertake a dieta at the same time and adhere strictly to the restrictions imposed by the individual shaman, both before and after. There are restrictions both medical and spiritual. For us, no pharmaceutical medication, street drugs, blue cheese, alcohol, duck or pork for two weeks before. All these things can at best impede the ayahuasca from working and at worst cause an adverse reaction and kill you. The dieta involves eating lightly, very bland food with no salt or flavourings of any kind. It is essentially the original diet of the forest and enables ayahuasca to penetrate you much deeper and for much longer. In conjunction to this we also dieted trees, drinking tea made from various barks each morning. The trees are considered the biggest, most powerful spirits in the forest and they make your body an hospitable place for ayahuasca to live and also provide protection.    During the dieta all sexual activity including masturbation was prohibited. We also had to avoid touching each other and mixing with the general public, as our spiritual nervous systems were wide open. After the dieta, the restrictions continued with sexual prohibition for a further month, no alcohol or drugs for a month, no pork, duck, or venison for six months. It was said that observing the restrictions allowed ayahuasca to stay with you for much longer and greatly enhanced the possibility of life changing experiences taking place. It was also a question of showing respect for the spirit of ayahuasca, breaking the dieta would at the very least stop ayahuasca from doing her work and at worst induce catastrophic life changes. It can be seen from this that entering into communion with ayahuasca is no small commitment and not one to be taken lightly. Dieta is how Amazonian shamans become shamans. I use the word shaman here only for convenience, it is not used in Peru where words like curandero, ayahuascero or vegetalista describe these traditional healers. Repeated dietas with different plants, in total seclusion, for extended periods of time are undertaken. Each plant may lead the shaman to another and on and on. The more dieta a shaman does the more power they have. It is said that ayahuasca taken just once in combination with dieta is one hundred times more powerful than taking ayahuasca a hundred times without.

   For our first ayahuasca ceremonies we travelled to a retreat centre called The Way Inn. This is a mountain lodge situated in the Andes at very high altitude. The setting is spectacularly beautiful and the presence of the great mountain spirits, the Apus, is palpable. Ayahuasca is taken at night in the dark and we all gathered in the ceremony room around six pm. We each had a mattress to lie on, a plastic bowl to throw up in, a bottle of water to rinse our mouths (you can’t swallow water, it’s just to get rid of the taste which is absolutely foul) and a blanket, because at times ayahuasca can make you very cold indeed. The mattresses were arranged in a circle with the shaman and the mesa at the top. The mesa (table) is a collection of objects; stones, crystals, skulls, feathers, statues, all sorts of things of spiritual significance both traditionally and to the shaman personally. It is the centre of power and protection in the ceremony.

   Our shaman was Maestro Gumercindo or Gumé for short. By candlelight he poured ayahuasca into a small cup and sang or whistled an icaro into the cup with special intention placed on the person to drink. The icaros are magical healing songs, either passed from shaman to shaman or learned directly from plant spirits. Gumé’s icaros are incredibly beautiful and remain with me still. Once Gumé had finished singing, the person would come forward to take the cup. Before drinking you must put your intention into the cup, what you hope to get from the journey. Once done, you say Salud! and drink. Everyone answers back Salud! Everyone drinks from the same cup. I was about halfway through the circle, and I watched with increasing nervousness as my turn approached. When my turn came I took the cup and simply said, teach me what I need to know. The foul taste of ayahuasca is almost as legendary as its effects but to my surprise it actually tasted quite pleasant, I felt no need to wash out my mouth and I wondered why so many complained about the taste. This was the only time ayahuasca was to taste pleasant. The taste got increasingly worse with each ceremony, so much so that by the end of the retreat I was actually almost vomiting before I took it!

   The ayahuasca experience is different for everyone. One of her aspects is that she is a spiritual cleaner; she goes through all the chakras and nadis cleaning them out. This is exactly what kundalini does, in fact it has been suggested that one cup of ayahuasca is the equivalent of ten years meditation. Before ayahuasca can bring the visionary aspect to a person she must do this cleaning but some people need so much cleaning that they need to take ayahuasca many times before having visuals.

   About fifteen minutes after drinking I began to feel what they call ‘mareado’. Your body feels drunk but your mind is crystal clear. We had been told to sit up for as long as possible but I just had to lie down. Soon the shaman began singing and shaking his leaf rattle and I began to hear the strange buzzing machine like noises that sometimes precede the onset of visions. Then I felt the ayahuasca travel up my spine just like kundalini. I knew she was heading for my pineal gland. As she got closer I saw a beautiful magical being shoot a ray of pure white light into my third eye. My third eye unfolded like a blue flower and then I was inside my pineal gland. It was like being inside a giant blue pinecone shaped cathedral and then I went out through the top. I was shown a tube or tunnel made of circles of golden light, I could see the blue human soul ascending through this.

   At some point I began to feel a stirring deep within me and realised this was the onset of the purgation for which ayahuasca is so famous.  I could see a python patterned with bile green and yellow, very bright, luminous, forming in my intestines, it then began to rise. As its head approached my trachea I knew I had to get to my bucket and I turned on my belly and reached for it. In normal consciousness the bucket was about one foot away from me but in ayahuasca consciousness it was about ten feet away. I crawled what seemed to be an impossibly long distance and finally managed to grasp my bowl, the problem now was it had grown so big that I could barely get my arms around it. Finally, just in time I got positioned over my bowl for the big event. At this point I noticed that there was a tunnel in my bowl going down to eternity and there was a face in this tunnel and that face was mine. You can’t deny the universe has a sense of humour when a spiritual purge involves vomiting on your own face! The purging was truly wondrous, I didn’t bring up much food because of dieta but I could feel things coming up from very deep inside me, poisonous things, dark things, fears, negative thoughts and emotions, I wondered how such evil could ever have lived inside me. I lay down again and the visions returned. I was shown ancient temples, Mayan, Incan, and Toltec. I was shown the intricate carvings on the walls and I sensed I was being shown something important to do with our origins. At one point I went to the toilet, the light was on and I could see spirit anacondas flying all around me.

   The next day I was very happy to have survived ayahuasca and was looking forward to the next ceremony. One of the organisers told me that ayahuasca is often wonderful the first time, it’s kind of a nice hello, but after that she gets down to some serious work with you, and this indeed proved to be the case.

   The next night after drinking I went very quickly into an incredibly disturbing state of consciousness. It was blue and vast and intelligent beyond human comprehension. Somehow I knew this state was Shiva. There were no actual visions with my eyes closed, just this alien state of mind. It was so scary I thought I was either going to die or go insane or both. I didn’t think I could come back from this without a shattered mind. I found myself gripping the mattress as this was the only evidence I had that I wasn’t dead and still in this world. Sometimes in an attempt to verify I wasn’t dead I would open my eyes but immediately visions would form in the room, which I sensed would be terrifying. I did not keep my eyes open long enough to see what they were as I felt that at some level I could accept this state of consciousness in my head but I could not accept it outside my head as well without cracking up, so I chose to believe that outside was still normal, a bit. After several hours in this state the ayahuasca began to wear off and I fell into the deepest of sleeps. The next morning I felt I could not drink ayahuasca again, I really felt that I could not endure another experience like this and survive. However, it is said that the time that you really don’t want to go into ceremony again is the time you really should. It’s only the ego saying no because it doesn’t like what’s being done to it. In retrospect I feel that during that ceremony I was being offered ego death but I wasn’t ready to accept it. By mid afternoon, I was feeling better and to my surprise felt ready to enter ceremony again. The next ceremony was rather unorthodox as instead of traditional icaros we used mantra instead. The holiness of mantra becomes fully apparent under ayahuasca and the ceremony was beautiful as mantra after mantra moved through me. In my first journey I found myself in the centre of the hollow earth, I could see the continents on the outside of the globe. Then a portal opened into to space and millions of stars rushed towards me or I rushed towards them, I’m not sure. I found myself in space and all the stars were pouring into my crown chakra. Then I saw Shiva. He was a most beautiful luminous blue; he rested his great head on a mountain range, behind him a deep black night sky. Huge shooting stars were pouring into his head, then into me and I merged with Shiva. My next ceremony was very important in my shamanic path as I feel that it was then that aspects of my shamanic self were awoken. First I saw an Angel, in the form of a column of light, angelic wings stretched out from either side of it. Then I was shown the Holy Grail. It rested on a carved white stone pedestal, again, angel wings spread out from either side. Then I found myself standing in a great canyon. I saw a bird with a carved wooden totem pole head above me, and then eagles and condors flew around me. I saw a great stag and fell asleep in the arms of a bear.

   After these first ceremonies in the Andes, we then journeyed to visit ayahuasca in her true home, the Amazon rainforest. To this end, we headed to the city of Iquitos. Iquitos is the only city in the world located inside a rainforest. There are no roads in; it is accessible only by plane or through an arduous boat journey. To get there we were to fly first to Lima then get a connecting flight. However, a passenger fell ill on the first flight resulting in the plane being diverted to Iquitos for an emergency stop. It was great testament to the skill of the pilot that he landed this huge aircraft in this absolutely tiny third world airport equipped only for much smaller planes. It was six thirty in the morning but frustratingly we were not allowed to disembark but had to carry on to Lima.  In Lima we actually nearly missed our flight to get back to the airport where we had been sitting that morning!

   Iquitos is a small city, quite run down but with hints of past colonial glory. Most of the ayahuasca centres are in close proximity and as such it is really a kind of ‘Ayahuasca Central’. It is also the strangest place on Earth. The spiritual energy is palpable in Iquitos, a raw magic emanating from the heart of the rainforest where plant spirit shamanism has been practised in unbroken tradition for thousands of years. The first night in the hotel Michèle had a huge dream re-living the death of her mother. I dreamed I was escorting entities out of the room. Just a short walk from our hotel was a cafe where all the westerners would hang out and talk about ayahuasca, retreat centres and each other. We quickly realised that this was a place where everyone knew everything about everyone else. Yet it was also very seductive, the type of place that might take hold of you, that you might never leave. We got talking to an American man who ran an ayahuasca and huachuma retreat. He was a great raconteur and regaled us with some wild tales of doing ceremonies up in the ancient temple complex of Chavin de Huantar. We remarked upon the energy of Iquitos and he laughed saying sometimes he felt like it was a kind of purgatory, that everyone in Iquitos was actually dead and that you came here before being shipped off to your respective Heaven or Hell. I began to feel as if I was in a Stephen King novel, that in fact our plane had crashed in Iquitos and the sick woman that was taken off was actually the only survivor and the rest of us were dead! A beggar walked past and our friend gave some money. He turned to us and said, always best to be on the safe side, you never know who might be an angel in disguise in Iquitos.

   Our next retreat centre was Dreamglade, about a two-hour drive outside the city. It was very beautiful, no electricity, simple traditional tambos and a large central maloka for ceremonies. All this built around a large lake, inside thirty-five acres of rainforest. The feeling of being in the rainforest was exquisite, I felt like I was at the centre of the world, that I was part of the forest and the forest part of me, that there were spirits everywhere.

   Our ‘shaman’ was a Shipibo woman called Estella. She had had her first visionary experiences aged five and could tell not only when people were pregnant before they knew it themselves, but also the sex of the child they were going to have. She trained with her grandmother for twelve years, dieting countless plants and considered herself to be a ‘vegetalista’. I asked her could she see our energy fields at all times or just when she had taken ayahuasca. She said she could see everything at all times because she had dieted Toé. Toé is one of the BIG plants in the Amazonian tradition and Estella had dieted it for a year. In ceremony, she had no mesa or leaf rattle. She had some bags of various medicinal plants and some agua florida beside her, but that was it. She also rarely moved from her place in ceremony unless someone was really suffering. She remained where she was and the healing power emanated out into the ceremony from her. Her icaros were powerful and relentless; it felt as if no sickness or negativity could resist them. Sometimes it felt as if she was leaning right over me singing in my ear, but she never moved from her place. She said that when she had ayahuasca inside her, she had the cure to all the diseases in the world.

   In our previous ceremonies we had drunk cielo ayahuasca mixed with chacruna, sanango and mapacho. This ayahuasca was quite different. This was black ayahuasca. It was mixed with chacruna and another plant, chaliponga, which contains fifteen percent more DMT than chacruna, so it was a very potent brew. Estella said that the balance between leaf and vine was excellent and that it was very good medicine.

   It was late and we were very tired upon getting to the retreat and we just had time to change before going straight into ceremony. I wasn’t ready for a big ayahuasca experience that night so I drank just a quarter of a cup. I’m very sensitive to ayahuasca and wanted to just dip my toe in the water so to speak, to test the strength of the medicine. The ayahuasca was very thick, I got a slight honey taste from it. In fact, to me it almost tasted nice which is very unusual for ayahuasca. The effects came on quite fast, I saw Shipibo patterns, snakes and pure white light. It was a very relaxing, peaceful ceremony with no purging and just what I needed. The next day I had a vision of a huge anaconda swimming in the lake and two bluebirds flying around it.

   The following day was to bring with it some of the most profound spiritual experiences of my life. First we began our dieta. This time we were dieting ajos sacha. Its name means false garlic and it does have a very strong garlic smell. It has many healing properties and also contributes to clarity of mind and focus. Everyday we would drink a glass of it. We would also receive it as a plant bath; water with the leaves macerating in it would be poured over our heads and bodies whilst prayers were said. This also acted as protection in the ayahuasca ceremonies.

  That afternoon there was the opportunity to do a tobacco purge. I was initially quite reluctant, as I had seen a person get very ill because they had failed to purge all the tobacco from their system. Also, the abuse of tobacco within my family had created an emotional barrier, even though I knew that in the Amazon it was a very important sacred plant medicine. It is said that ayahuasca loves tobacco. I initially said no but my intuition was strongly pushing me towards doing the purge so in the end I went with my heart instead of my head and I’m so glad I did. The purge itself involves drinking a large glass of concentrated tobacco juice. You let this rest in your stomach for a few minutes then you start drinking warm water, A LOT of water. We were each given a large basin full. The type of basin you use for doing the washing up, it’s like drinking a sink full of water very fast. You keep drinking until the vomiting begins and the tobacco mixed with water shoots out of your mouth in great streams. At one point I was in difficulty but the shaman came along and rubbed my stomach and I was off again. You keep drinking until all the tobacco is out and you can drink without vomiting. By the time I’d finished I was completely drenched, I’d sweated right through my shirt but I felt amazing, I mean really amazing, superhuman. I was advised to have a swim followed by some rest before ceremony. The medicine had penetrated me deeply and lying in my tambo I was filled with blissful sensations, particularly in my legs and the spirit of tobacco rocked me gently. Also some curious processes were initiating in my stomach, it felt like a giant spoon was gently stirring my insides round and round. It was all so beautiful I was laughing out loud and tearful at the same time. Recently there were sensationalist headlines in the papers concerning the tragic death of a young woman at an ayahuasca retreat in Peru. Although all the facts were far from clear, a tobacco purge was given as the likely cause of death and the usual fear mongering ensued, this time centering around tobacco instead of ayahuasca, as is usually the case. I found it ironic and absolutely typical of western media that although we have been killing ourselves for years, by the millions, through tobacco abuse, one death, in a country that’s been using it for millennia as a healing medicine gets a headline.

   Between being on dieta and having done the tobacco purge I felt wonderfully clean and empty going into ceremony that night. I felt confident and ready to take whatever ayahuasca wanted to throw at me and I drank a half-cup, which is a big dose for me. I then settled down on my mattress to await what the ceremony would bring. Initially though, it seemed to take a long time for the ayahuasca to take effect, which seemed strange because the night before I had taken less ayahuasca but felt the effects very quickly. Then again sometimes you think you are not mareado when you actually are. I saw very clearly the face of a blue deity, but after this nothing. In fact I felt so un-mareado that I decided to sit up with a straight spine in meditation position. I immediately then felt the ayahuasca coming on very fast and strong and had to lie down straight away. Vast snake-like coils began to engulf the room all around me. Sometimes with ayahuasca the visionary aspect can be like watching a film in your third eye. With the stronger experience you are inside the vision and the ‘real’ world is subsumed, this was one such occasion. The vast coils began to morph into different shapes, textures and colours and I was aware of being inside the creative power of the universe, that place of infinite manifestation and possibility, the place from which all form pours forth and solidifies into the material world. This was the veiling, concealing power of Shakti, from this state the illusion of separation, the matrix is created. For a time I went very deep into this state, which I can’t deny was a little scary. Following this however I found myself surrounded by hundreds of green snakes, which flowed all around me, making me feel very blissful.

   During the ceremonies, at some point, each person would be taken up to sit in front of Estella for a limpieza. This is a personal healing, where she works on cleaning your energy and inducing any disease to purge. It is a very powerful experience having the icaro sung right into you. Some people just vomit instantly; it can be very difficult to even sit up. When it came to Michèle’s turn to go up, I was really concentrating on sending her loads of love and hoping she was having a good ceremony with the healing she needed. As I was doing this I felt myself going very deep again and I became aware of something vast forming in the air to my left hand side. I realised that what I was looking at was actually my own spine. Little, different coloured lights began to come on from the bottom to the top; it looked a bit like a runway. As the lights were coming on in my spine I felt kundalini entering at the sacrum, a delicious heat moved up my body, my hands and fingers stretched out and my head began to shake as powerful energy came into my pineal gland. My left nostril then became incredibly clear and I began to take true yogic breaths, I could feel the breath coming from deep down travelling all the way up through the nadi. At this point I realised I was being given the great gift of a second kundalini awakening.

   My tongue now began to take on a life of its own and enter into spontaneous kechari mudra. Kechari mudra is a very advanced yoga technique, which perhaps only a handful of people in the world have ever entered into. The Yoga Kundalini Upanishad states that,

‘The knowledge of Khechari is rare and also rare is its practice.’ 13

and that, Kechari means ‘to fly through inner space’. There is a chakra on the tip of the tongue and in advanced stages of kundalini awakening the tongue begins to curl back in the mouth. It is seeking the area behind the soft palate at the nasal pharynx. This highly sensitive area is the casing of the pineal gland. When the chakra on the tip of the tongue touches this point a state of full body energetic union occurs.

‘The mind moves in space; the tongue enters space. Therefore the name kechari was chosen by the masters for this mudra.’14 

It is in this space that the confluence of ida, pingala and sushumna occurs. It is difficult to convey just how ‘big’, how important kechari mudra is. Both the Yoga Kundalini Upanishad and the Hatha Yoga Pradipika talk about it in exalted language.

‘There is only one seed, pervading creation; one mudra, Khechari; one God, independent;one state, manonmani.’ 15

My tongue had been going back to the soft palate in meditation for quite sometime although I had not yet reached full kechari, as my tongue isn’t long enough. There are various tongue lengthening measures that can be employed but aside from this the kechari process may take years, as a very purified spiritual nervous system is needed to be able to cope with it. In this instance however ayahuasca took over the show and she was in full Vedic/yogic mode. She pulled my tongue back to the soft palate, then I felt and could see kundalini energy streaming out of the tip of my tongue, curling up behind the nasal pharynx and shoot straight into my pineal gland. Then my tongue seemed to disappear, a crystal of violet light appeared in the centre of my head, waves of pure consciousness swept over me, into me, and I entered into ‘yoga’, into union. There are really no words to describe the beauty of this samadhi state. Time ceased to exist so I have no idea how long it lasted. Eventually I found myself within the coils of a vast anaconda. Her patterns were lit up with many beautiful tiny lights and through the centre of her coils was the white light of pure consciousness. I knew I was being shown the true nature of the universe. The anaconda as Shakti, enfolding us in the coils of the matrix illusion of unlimited manifestation and possibility. The white light the eternal unchanging consciousness, Shiva, who enters into the illusion of separation to ‘play’ in the coils of Maya. I knew that when we are tired of ‘playing’ we go through into that white light. 

   When it came to my turn to sit in front of Estella I was in a very high vibrational state and my body began to move in rhythm with her icaro. My tongue was continuing to go up in kechari and then something miraculous happened, I tasted a thick, sticky sweet substance on the tip of my tongue. I brought it down into my mouth, tasted some more, swallowed and was immediately filled with bliss. To my sheer amazement I realised, I was tasting amrita, the legendary nectar of the gods. The production of amrita occurs as part of the nectar cycle in the kundalini awakened person’s body. Certain mysterious processes go on in the stomach, as digestion plays a very important role in the process. The oldest of the Vedas, the Rig Veda, talks about churning the vats of soma and drinking the soma. This has led to speculation that soma was some kind of entheogen. In my opinion this is not the case and that ‘churning the vats of Soma’ refers to this very process, when I felt that ‘giant spoon’ turning in my stomach this was what I was feeling, the soma in pre-amrita stage. This process then combines with the cerebrospinal fluid and is transformed in the brain into amrita, which drips down the back of the throat. This is partly why the tongue goes back in kechari, because it wants to taste the amrita. Via the tongue the amrita is distributed through the body in a different way than through just swallowing. I would taste the amrita then swallow and every time I did I was filled with joy and bliss, I felt it all through my body. The Upanishads attribute miraculous qualities to this soma.

‘The knower of Yoga-tongue above, steady drinking soma-undoubtedly conquers death…’ 16

‘As the fire, the fuel, and the flame, the oily wick, so the soul does not abandon a body filled with drops of soma.’ 17

   When I returned to my place I sat up in meditation position and a whole set of kriyas ensued. In particular my sacrum would shake very rapidly and my head would roll grinding my neck bones. This seemed to go on for some time until all the vertebrae in my spine cracked from bottom to top and my spine was completely re-aligned. The amrita continued to flow for several hours, filling me with such bliss I was grinning like a Cheshire cat! I can only describe the sense of this whole experience as ‘Vedic’ and it further confirmed for me the truth to be found in the ancient Sanskrit texts and the yogic/tantric systems of spiritual practice.

   The next day, despite still feeling very blissful I had a slight ache in my stomach. I was virtually empty of food at this stage and I suspected that there was still something in me to purge, despite the fact that the shaman had told me I was the ‘cleanest’ person in the group. Also, there was something very strange, I felt like I had sand in my mouth. It was grinding between my teeth and no matter how much I cleaned them it still kept coming back and no one could give me an explanation for this. Everything would become clear to me in the next ceremony, which proved to be one of my most rewarding but also most difficult.

   In this ceremony, after drinking the ayahuasca, I lay down and got comfortable on my mattress. I had just achieved a level of perfect comfort (which is a big thing for me as I’m a great fidgeter), when I heard something jump off the wall of the maloka and got quite a fright when it landed on my head! It was pitch black so I couldn’t see what it was but I was convinced it was a tarantula and I sat up brushing my hair frantically. During the rest of the ceremony this mysterious beastie continued to make its presence felt and I began to think it must be there for a reason.

   I lay down again and let the ayahuasca come, I became aware of the roots of a vast brown plant surrounding me and permeating me. This part of the ceremony was very joyful. I lay on my back and my hands began to flap up and down on the mattress. I began to laugh and felt my hands becoming infused with spiritual energy, something I would need later on in the ceremony.

   Soon, the ache in my stomach became more noticeable and I sensed something coming to the surface. As the shaman began to sing I began to cough and spit. It was a dry cough with very little physical substance coming out. The coughing and spitting increased and the mareado state became very strong. My nose then also began to purge and I was aware of something very deep emerging. I began to realise that I was beginning to purge two diseases that have afflicted me since childhood, an asthmatic condition and chronic rhinitis. For me, the ayahuasca purge is always a very multi-dimensional experience. Whatever I am purging begins to manifest around me. I see zigzag patterns, lurid colours, jarring energy; I can see and feel what is in me being pulled out by ayahuasca. I began to purge from deep down in my intestines, I could feel something wriggling inside me. With a great effort I brought it up and a snake slithered out of my mouth into my bowl and disappeared, but there was much more to come. As the purge progressed I began to sense that it was connected to tobacco, the tobacco purge I had done earlier had initiated contact with this great plant teacher. The purge continued to deepen and I realised that not only was I healing myself but my mother also, it felt as if I was actually taking her sickness and getting rid of it. The purge and state of mareado became so intense that Estella left her place and sat with me, soothing me with flower water and energetically cleansing me. I told the diseases I loved them and thanked them for their lessons and asked them to go into the light. Deep in mareado, my left hand would repeatedly come to my forehead and make a cross sign, it almost felt as if I was anointing my pineal gland. Lying on my front over my bowl, ayahuasca would rock my hips and stomach, churning and churning up the disease. This went on for a couple of hours until I felt I might also need to go to the toilet. Sitting on the toilet holding my bowl in my hands the mareado state got even stronger and I was getting weaker. I wasn’t sure I could take much more and called for Estella to see if she could help but she said I had to go through it alone. Normally with ayahuasca you don’t drink water but now I knew that I had to drink and that in fact I was doing another tobacco purge, that the healing spirit of tobacco was healing me of tobacco abuse. I drank pints and pints of water. Throughout all this Estella’s assistant, a young American man named Drew, took great care of me. I went very deep with the disease, I could see it within me, at one point I was so deep I stopped breathing. I heard Drew say, don’t forget to breath buddy! I actually felt oneness with the sickness, I understood it wasn’t bad, it just was what it was. Hard as the process was, I found myself laughing during much of it and giving thanks that the disease was leaving me. My nose was also purging throughout this, I would blow, flush the tissue away and say, go away and come back as something nice. Sometimes the disease would come into my hands. I was able to hold them over the bowl and ‘brush’ it off. My hands would continue this brushing action until they were energetically clean, at this point they would come together in prayer position. What was coming out was so toxic that if I accidently touched the contents of the bowl it felt almost radioactive. Drew was brilliant throughout this process, giving me cleansing agua florida of tobacco and blowing cooling tobacco smoke over me. Finally I felt stillness, I again sensed a Vedic presence, I was filled with violet light in geometric patterns, and just like that, the disease was gone and I was back! I later discovered that Drew had helped me by taking a small part of my sickness into himself which was such a truly selfless act. The next day he too had sand in his mouth.

   Just as upon arriving in Iquitos, I had had strange dreams, the same happened upon leaving. First I had a vision of the jungle in which appeared the face of a native woman with beautiful eyes, La Madre I think. On my last night in Iquitos I dreamed of an ancient mound in the jungle. It was used for ceremonies and it was my job to make sure it was clear and safe from giant sloths. I realised this was a memory of a past life many millennia ago when humans and megatherium existed together. As I watched, giant sloths moved slowly away from the mound. Just before the winter solstice the giant sloth came back. In this dream I walked into a museum, the concrete floor cracked open and a giant sloth emerged. It nuzzled and cuddled me. Curious as to the possible message of this huge, extinct power animal I did some research and all I could find about the spiritual meaning of the giant sloth was in, ‘Mysteries of the Jaguar Shamans of the North-West Amazon’, by Robin M. Wright. In western Amazonia, despite being extinct (probably) for thousands of years, the giant sloth is an avatar for the creation god Kuwai. Like Kuwai, the sloth is capable of living in several worlds at different moments of the seasonal cycle. Its actions of ascending and descending trees recalls perfectly the actions of the spirit of initiation, Kuwai. The giant sloth, megatherium was actually a ground dwelling animal but its great size allowed it to reach to the highest branches, in this sense it links the elements of earth and air. It walked with its great claws facing inwards, not outwardly aggressive yet showing immense power.

   After Iquitos we travelled on to Cusco for a time before going home. In Cusco there was the opportunity to do one more ayahuasca ceremony. I was slightly reluctant as I didn’t feel comfortable with the shaman. I even received a warning dream confirming this but at the end the Jaguar came and I was filled with a feeling of joy. My intuition told me to go ahead with the ceremony but with open eyes. That night there was only my stepdaughter and myself in the ceremony. We drank black ayahuasca mixed with chacruna, it was very nice tasting and proved to be excellent, unlike the shaman who confirmed my earlier suspicions. Quite early on in the ceremony after half-heartedly singing a couple of icaros he fell asleep and started snoring loudly. I found this quite funny but my stepdaughter got quite cross and despite being mareado got up and made enough noise to wake him up. He woke with a start and frantically began whistling an icaro, wondering if he had been caught. Later I could here him rummaging through a bag pulling things out. One moment he was banging a drum, the next playing a jaw harp. By the time he got to the glockenspiel I was convinced he was trying to mess with my mind. It was hilarious, I half expected him to pull out a set of bagpipes. Fortunately, for most of the night we were left alone with the ayahuasca. This was actually quite strange as we were used to being in ceremonies where icaro were sung almost constantly and it was very different being in a deep visionary state but without the icaros to guide us, only silence. This ceremony seemed very long, I didn’t purge but the ayahuasca was quite relentless and waves and waves of visions came to me for many hours. We both experienced a black energy, it was blacker than the darkness of the maloka. It didn’t however seem negative, but all the same I didn’t allow it full manifestation or interaction with me and ‘blew’ it away. The visions felt far more traditionally shamanic than Vedic this time. First I saw beautiful snakes and then the tunnel opened up before me and the Jaguar came. I knew it would, as I had dreamed about it the night before. After this I saw my consciousness again change into a crystalline structure as it had also in one of the jungle ceremonies. More snakes came and I reached out and pulled a huge black one towards me, I felt its coils envelope me, then move through me. I saw trees with mystical designs painted on them. The most wonderful moment was seeing the Tiger with absolute clarity; it appeared so clearly, such a beautiful face, eyes full of love and compassion. I knew that this Tiger loved me and I felt the same. At one point I felt a sort of jolt at the back of my head just below my crown chakra and found myself looking at a full moon in my third eye. I understood that something important had happened, that I was now in awareness of the bindu chakra and that it was open. The bindu chakra is considered the point of emanation and retraction of consciousness; those that have ‘pierced’ the bindu have reached the highest state of awareness. It is said to resemble a round box. With its lid slightly ajar, light emanates from it, creating a crescent moon lying on its back. When fully opened it is perceived as a full moon. The bindu can be felt at the back of the head below the crown, the point where Hare Krishnas have their ponytail. Awareness of it has been permanent since this ceremony. The bindu chakra is associated with the production of soma/amrita, which is expressly connected to the moon in the Hatha Yoga Pradapika. 

‘Divine liquor is the essence that flows from the moon.’ 18

‘It is truly Shiva’s beloved. Cover the unequalled, divine sushumna at the back opening where the stream flows from the moon.’ 19

‘Salutations to you, Sushumna, kundalini, nectar born of the moon, manomani, great power in the form of consciousness.’ 20

    The next morning something quite magical happened and I suspect this was the whole reason for our being there. It was about six in the morning and we sat outside the maloka talking. We were high above Cusco and all was quiet, no traffic noise, just us. My stepdaughter was starting to relate to me the story of how a hummingbird had flown right up to her the day before. She had barely said the word ‘hummingbird’ when a large bird came down fast from high in the sky, flew in between us and fluttered all over her face. It then shot off into some nearby trees. She had received a direct blessing from Spirit.

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