Vine of the Soul: 2: Initial Contact
My room is full- four women, four twin beds and one bathroom- and yet it is eerily silent as we bathe and dress for the first of three ceremonies of the weekend. I have decided to only attend the first ceremony, and to be “in service” for the following ceremony tomorrow afternoon. “In service”, I was told, basically means gathering vomit bags and walking people to bathrooms during the ceremony, and cleaning and making meals in between. I was also told this was an honor to be allowed to be in service during ceremony, one that was offered to me based on my work as an herbalist and energy worker…
Earlier, as I nervously waited for time to pass, I had a brief conversation with one of my roommates. I asked her the questions you might expect. How long had she been working with The Medicine? What brought her to this path? Was she afraid? She told me that she initially sought out Ayahuasca as a way to heal from Lyme disease. She confided that she had previously tried every allopathic and alternative treatment, and believed that Lyme would ultimately kill her. Ayahuasca, she told me, had brought the disease under control, and she was now managing it well. She continues to come, she said, because she wants to know the things that Grandmother continues to teach her. “As far as fear goes”, she said with a finality in her tone that said our discussion was near its end, “fear is about living on the edge and the gifts that edge has to offer”.
Now we are dressed for the first ceremony. The entire group, around 30 or 40 I think, wander quietly from sleeping quarters toward the community room. Some wear loose cotton pants or dresses, others yoga clothes, some are clad in jeans and tee-shirts. Inside the airy, windowed community room, mats have been placed in a large circle. I find a mat and unroll my blanket. Many people lay down, I have been told, and it can get chilly. I watch out of the corner of my eye as others smile and nod at each other while setting up their own small space. They hug and whisper to each other, clearly having been here before. Many of them line sacred objects up at the base of their mats. I note that there are about an equal number of men and women. I note that there is a good deal of cultural diversity among attendees. All are quiet. The lightly smoky air smells of incense and flowers. This space feels sacred.
When the shaman enters, everyone takes a seat on their mat. It is completely silent. I can feel the tension and expectation in the air. Some sit with eyes closed, serene, others fidget nervously. The shaman opens the ceremony in Spanish, interpreted through an assistant. He speaks, explaining the ceremony. He says a prayer to the Four Directions and sprays Agua de Florida out of his mouth for each Direction. I sit quietly, my heart beating too fast. “What the HELL am I doing here?” I wonder. My stomach is full of butterflies. The ceremony is to last 4 to 6 hours, and I have been warned about the purgative effects of Ayahuasca, (puking, I say to myself) as well as the deep and sometimes frightening visions she brings. To calm myself, I call upon my Spirit Helpers. They gather around me, promising to stay with me until the end. One by one, each member of the circle approaches the shaman, who fills a tiny silver cup with dark, viscous fluid. One by one, each member of the circle tilts back the offered cup and takes his or her place back within the circle.
Suddenly it is my turn. As if in a dream, I walk toward the seated shaman and slide in closely to kneel at his feet. He asks his assistant, in Spanish, about me. She whispers back, presumably telling him this is my first time. He smiles at me and asks in heavily accented English, “how much?” I shrug and say I do not know. He smiles and pours me a shot. It literally GLUGS into the small silver cup. I take it. I breathe. I touch the cup to my forehead. I pour the thick goo into the back of my mouth…
It tastes bad. It tastes like molasses and teriyaki sauce, mixed and cooked down into a chunky sludge. It is disgusting, but not as bad as I expected based on others’ descriptions. I wipe my mouth and walk back to my mat. After a while the circle is complete. We sit in silence. Some time passes and the shaman begins to sing his “icaros”- his medicine songs- with power and grace. He rattles. He will sing for us for hours. All around me people start to vomit into the provided buckets. Some vomit violently and continuously. Others begin to whisper and moan softly. I start to wonder if I had enough “medicine”. Finally, I feel a vibration begin in my body, accompanied by a high pitched ringing. My ears feel like they have grown very large. I say a last prayer requesting gentleness as she arrives for me…
Spiritual is defined as “of or relating to the spirit or soul, as distinguished from the physical nature”. Spirituality is not necessarily religion, although the religious can certainly be (or not be) spiritual. Religion requires us to adhere to a specific doctrine, and often has its own materialistic goals. Spirituality involves finding meaning and purpose in life and life experiences, feeling connected to a Source or higher consciousness, experiencing the sacredness of the life journey.
Modern life for many in the U.S. has become a pursuit of material wealth, and there is nothing wrong with living a materially comfortable lifestyle. Study after study has proven that having enough financial resources to cover our basic needs does indeed make us happier. However, the pursuit of materialism to the exclusion of all else may leave us spiritually ill, and mentally and emotionally unbalanced. Large segments of the population of developed countries such as the U.S. have largely turned away from spirituality as a routine aspect of daily life, often preferring to compartmentalize spirituality to a few hours of practice per week, if at all. Can this deficit of spirituality be the basis of the erosion of American morals? And, since the current 300+ religions and denominations in America don’t appear to be the answer, are there other avenues to finding meaning in Western life that can replace the often violent struggle for material success?
[Author's Note: My purpose in these writings is to share my personal experiences. I am not suggesting that working with plant entheogens is an appropriate path for everyone. In fact, I caution anyone who wishes to work with these plants to do so only after great consideration. All people considering this path of exploration should work diligently to find authentic healers to work with. Persons with addiction issues, those who have been diagnosed with mental illness and people with deep emotional issues should work directly with healers who have the knowledge and professional background to address after-effects that may arise from this profound work. All photos posted are attributed to their original source(s)and are not mine.]