Ayahuasca versus my ego

Trip Date: Aug 2006

The two trips about which I am posting occurred on consecutive nights in ayahuasca healing ceremonies in the Peruvian Amazon. I participated in 5 ceremonies in total and am sharing what transpired on the second and third of these. After emerging from my first ceremony with only positive experiences akin to those I had experienced with other hallucinogens, I became cocky about my seeming invulnerability to having bad trips. This is what ensued.

Trip 2

My request for an extra large dose of the brew was accepted by Hamilton (the shaman), which translated into my receiving a full 4oz cup compared to the standard 1 to 2oz doses. In order to swallow that much liquid death, I had to fully prepare myself mentally before throwing it back. Part of this preparation involved silently expressing my intentions for the trip, which this time was to acquire deep insight and wisdom. I then raised my cup, said “salud”, and somehow managed to swallow all 4 vile ounces of the green sludge without evoking my gag reflex. I handed the cup back to Hamilton and quickly sprawled out on my mat and closed my eyes. My arrogance was not so strong as to blind me to the potential of having a bad trip after ingesting so much extra medicine. In fact, maybe I was secretly hoping for one. Still, I felt little fear and had confidence that I could weather any hallucinatory storm the ayahuasca could hit me with.

The initial phase of the intoxication was ordinary enough, consisting of intense kaleidoscopic visions. The philosophical insight dimension to this trip seemed lacking from the start. The comfort I experienced in the first session, where I could easily make sense of my visions and exert some control over where they took me was now nonexistent. Instead, these visions soon began conveying a strong sense of movement. I began to travel at a high rate of speed in my mind, as if soaring through some colorful tunnel to another dimension. I had no idea where I was going or if the tunnel even had an end. I began to feel lost. The tunnel vision eventually ended and was replaced by what can only be described as pure chaos. I was now flooded with an infinite barrage of imagery coming from every conceivable direction. It was impossible to focus my attention on anything in particular. Now I was not only lost, but helplessly consumed in utter pandemonium.

The turbulence of this trip was now bothering me enough to start thinking about asking Hamilton for help, as he had requested all participants do when feeling the need. As soon as I contemplated this course of action however, my ego chirped up and starting dissuading me from asking for his assistance. “You are not suffering that much.” “You don’t want to be the one to interrupt the ceremony”. “You can get through this alone.” Of course these were my thoughts, but I was experiencing them at least partially from outside of myself. In a sense, I was observing my own ego. I remained in that chaotic place for light years in non-linear time, waging a war against my true self and my stubborn ego. Towards the climax of this war, it seemed that one side had to win it all. If my ego had won the battle, I felt there would have been no saving me from the absolute depths of chaos. So I utilized all of my fortitude to end the conflict, and as if attempting to purge my sense of profound inner turmoil, instinctively shouted, “HELP”!

The icaros (spirit songs) of the shamans stopped briefly and the room grew quiet. Hamilton made his way over to me and crouched down beside my mat. “What is the problem?” I was tripping so hard that communication was no easy task. “I just need a personal icaro”, I managed to mutter in his ear. It was instantly clear that this communication was all I needed to say for him to understand my predicament. He commenced with shaking his chakapa (leaf rattle) and singing an icaro while hovering over me. I kept my eyes closed and tried only to focus on the melody of the song. In what could not have been more than 4 seconds after he began singing his icaro, the state of chaos and all its twisted, jumbled visions vanished. In its wake came visions of heavenly realms and angels coming to assist me. Never had I seen such beauty. When his icaro was finished he asked, “How are you now?” “I am perfect. Muchas gracias.” The ceremony continued as I remained in my state of utter bliss, in harmony with the universe. I had asked the spirits for insight and wisdom. Once again, they did not fail me.

In contrast to the introspective insights gained from my first ceremony, the knowledge gained from this trip had to be delivered in the form of a powerful experiential lesson. It was only through facing a realm of chaos hitherto unknown that I came to directly battle my silly ego. Everybody knows that you cannot get through everything in life by only your own devices, but that doesn’t stop most of us from avoiding asking for help we really need when our egos tell us we don’t need it. By allowing my truer self to defeat my ego, I was able to relinquish control. The help I received from Hamilton confirmed that I needed his assistance, and with my ego in retreat, this fact did not bother me in the slightest. Relinquishing control was what I had to do in order to learn my lesson. As Hamilton says, “the medicine will always provide you with what you need”. Apparently I needed an ego check. Maybe an average dose will suffice next time.

Trip 3

The powerful experience of confronting my own powerlessness was supremely humbling and helped imbue me with a sense of security and peace as I prepared for my next ceremony. This time I made sure to ask Hamilton for an average sized dose, to which we both chuckled in mutual acknowledgment of the soundness of my decision. I now presented the shaman with a different request. I asked him if I could graduate from my yoga mat on the floor to sitting in a chair next to the apprentices during the ceremony. He agreed to this proposition. “There is one rule you have to follow though”, he said with some seriousness. “If you fall out of the chair you cannot get back in it.” Hamilton had previously told the group that we could volunteer for the chair challenge, but warned us that it made for a much more difficult experience. In fact, the ability to remain seated in a chair for the duration of a ceremony is often the first test that apprentices must pass. Tonight my request to take the chair challenge was not motivated by the same cocky ego that asked for a stronger dose the night before. My respect for the medicine was growing, and that respect was helping open previously unlocked doors to my spirituality.

This time upon receiving the sacramental cup of ayahuasca, I set my intentions for divine guidance and inspiration. I then respectfully ingested my modest dose and awaited further teachings. The first quarter of the trip was pleasant albeit slightly unremarkable. Then the purging began. The state of chaos I had become familiarized with had now returned with a vengeance. Only this time, instead of my ego, it was my physical being that was assuming its dominance over me. Demons and malevolent insects of all kinds had me completely surrounded, progressively increasing their assaults with each wretched contribution I made to by blue vomit bucket. This agonizing state of affairs of course seemed like an eternity. The chaotic space mixed with the purging was so insanely intense that I could not even entertain the thought to ask for help. I was powerlessly trapped in hell and nothing could save me.

After finally filling my bucket, I looked down into what must have been at least a liter or two of chunky green liquid. Inside I saw maggots and small dark creatures having a grotesque orgy of destruction in my vomit. The shamans insist that purging is an important part of the healing process, in that what you purge is a manifestation of some type of sickness. I placed the bucket on the ground and tried desperately to collect myself, first by focusing on my breathing. Confident that I had successfully emptied the contents of my stomach, I began to feel significant relief. Of course this relief was only relative to the sheer terror from which I just emerged. The demons and their motley crew of minions still had me surrounded. “Leave me the fuck alone already”, I thought to myself. Then instantly a familiar insight occurred to me. “I just have to ask for help.”

Instead of physically yelling for help to summon the shaman, I simply thought the word help in the comfort of my own mind. As soon as I manifested that word, the demons retreated and the same angels from the night before arrived to help send them on their way. Seeing these angels again filled me with the most pure sense of gratitude I had ever known. As I blissfully watched and interacted with them, I kept repeating the word help over and over again. Each time I thought the word I was graced with more beauty. I was ascending to the heavenly plane that I had only glimpsed at before. Words could never do justice to the ecstatic state of gratitude and love that enveloped me. As I naturally wanted to remain in this state for as long as possible, if not forever, I did not dare break from repeating the ‘help’ mantra.

Traveling through this heavenly plane was so much more powerful than anything I had previously experienced, with psychedelics or otherwise. “But how far can I possibly ascend?” I thought. The answer to my query then appeared before me in stereotypical fashion, with a full face and long white hair with the beard to match. He then extended his hand to me and I reached forward, grasping his hand tightly. “I am sorry for neglecting you all these years” I told him. “I didn’t think you existed.” “I always have and always will” he replied. “Now you know you can communicate with me.” In the presence of this vision I truly felt saved, as a child being protected by an infallible parent. I began to reflect on the message of turning to God for help and how my lack of spiritual connection had been behind many of my troubles. The ceremony began to wind down almost immediately after my deity vision faded away. I will never forget the serenity I felt as the shaman sang his last icaro.

A Note

The deity vision was so perfectly clear and seemingly tangible that even I, a former non-believer, could not possibly deny its significance. My acknowledgment of a higher power and of a spiritual realm of existence began that night. I had previously found even the word God itself particularly contemptible. Now I could discuss the subject openly and not feel ashamed to do so. Even today, when my ego occasionally acts up and tries to deny spirit, I can never fully internalize that denial. A part of me will always feel disingenuous if ever attempting to wield an Atheistic argument. It is this part of me that knows the truth. The battle I fought in ceremony between my higher self and ego was just one battle in a much larger war. This war will be continually waged for as long as I am mortal, as the enemy ultimately has no white flag. At least ayahuasca taught me that, in battle, the ego can be defeated (transcended). That lesson led me to ask myself two profoundly serious questions. How many of these battles will I fight; and, how hard will I fight them.