For ten days, seven of us immersed ourselves in the Amazon jungle in Peru to disconnect from City life and reconnect ourselves in a way that we have never experienced before.
Growing up, I always said “If my life doesn’t work out – I will go live in the jungle.” Those who knew me well would scoff at my comment, but I meant it. It was my escape clause and a fantasy that remained in the back of my mind; within reach. And I was about to get a taste of it.
After traveling for a whole day: by cab, two planes, one tuk-tuk, a boat, another tuk-tuk, we finally arrived at Selva Madre Retreat, off the Nanay River, near Iquitos. There was no electricity, no wifi, no shower, no toilet seat, no flush on the toilet, no windows, no AC, no fans, no lights, no outlets,
no hair dryers, no candles.
There was also: no freeways, no traffic, no cars, no buildings/stores/malls, no sirens, no car alarms, no helicopters, no barking dogs, no bills, no responsibilities…
And there was the diet… sugar/salt free, no alcohol, caffeine, meat, sex; including masturbation.
This is the Ayahuasca diet. This plant medicine is ‘jealous’ and likes a clean system.
Within a few hours, we were embarking on our first ceremony. And I was scared. Will it be too difficult, hard, challenging? Will my demons defeat me? Will I survive? What if I can’t cope?
What if I go mad?
Sitting in a hut, in the dark, with eleven people, I set my intention “Salute Maestro,” and gulped down the Ayahuasca. “Oh, I know this taste. I’ve had this before.” It brought me some comfort knowing I experienced this in a past life. But I don’t remember if it was good… or bad…
I heard that you purge out of both ends… A bucket was provided for each person for the vomit. The toilets outside was for the diarrhea. The toilets that had no doors, no lids, no flush and no lights. “Stay inside the temple. Stay inside the temple. Stay… inside…”
Shaman Don Luis Rimachi, (A.K.A. Don Lucho) started whistling… I didn’t know this; but there is whistling… and there is whistling… The kind that is so powerful, it moves you to tears. His sound hit me right in my heart center and tears escaped my eyelids. Wow… what was this sound that totally mesmerized me? Here I am, in the Amazon jungle, with my mom and friends, doing Ayahuasca with a Peruvian Shaman who has a degree in: whistling. It is really happening. I am really here.
And the jungle surround sound was – electric.
Don Lucho and his two Shaman apprentices started singing the Icaros and shaking the Chacapa leaves. And that’s when I had my past life recollections… I was a sex slave, sold as a whore, performing in front of a jeering crowd. I was a flying creature bigger than any bird, flying over fields. The pigeons below, eating off the grass – seemed tiny to me. I was a dancing courtesan in a castle owned by royalty. I morphed into a huge serpent… Then galloping wildly on horseback: I was a Mongolian Warlord. I was a witch, ugly and deformed… And finally, I was tied to a wooden cross with rope, about to be burned to death in front of an audience.
Quite the performer, it seemed. It all made sense.
Geometric shapes morphed, zoomed and shape shifted. The graphics were intricate, elaborate and stunning. This, is journeying… this, is incredible… I became overwhelmed by the love I felt from my family and friends. Why don’t I let them love me more? Why don’t I let the love in? Why didn’t I trust that I would be okay? I was hit with nausea. Am I going to purge? Please stay in this hut; this temple. Don’t let me shit myself, is all I ask. I may not make it outside to the toilet. And I’m wearing all white.
I heard one would have a ‘gentler’ experience wearing all white. I thanked Mother Ayahuasca for being gentle with me. I felt a blockage in my solar plexus… but it didn’t want to come out.
Later that night, as I laid down to sleep, my mind journeyed again. Thank you for not shitting yourself… I fell asleep with a smile on my face, amazed that I was tripping again.
Oh, these wonderful geometric shapes…
The Cockerels crowed at 3am and 5am. The diet was bland. We weren’t eating for pleasure, but out of necessity. Diet is very important. Breaking it causes the medicine to stop working.
We were to process the medicine all day… and all night…
Food was served at 7am, 12pm and 7pm. On ritual nights, dinner was omitted. What did we do all day? Nothing. Or so it seemed. We laid in the hammock room listening to the jungle sounds and talked about life. Living. Not living. Plans, goals, desires, our differing experiences. We bathed in the creek to lower our temperatures. Ayahuasca brings heat to the head. It’s best to stay out of the sun today. Just spend the day processing.
I’m just happy and relieved that I made it through stellar fashion. And it was way more subtle than I had imagined it to be. She was kind to me the first time. And I know every ceremony is different.
I prepared to get my arse kicked.
For my second ceremony, I was to let love in, know peace and beyond,
connect to my ancestors, and purge my past lives…
A Cheshire cat grin from ear to ear, remained on my face all night. What was I smiling about? Just random thoughts. Thoughts about busting out the Yoga, about the jungle goblin: Chutachak. I must not waste this ritual on silly thoughts, I must focus on the goal. But I can’t stop smiling… I want to do Yoga. I want to laugh out loud. I want to dance. I want to rave! I want to move and stretch.
Maybe have sex – no – don’t go there. Definitely no sex.
I wonder if the Shamans have sex on this. It must be incredible…
I see a Native American girl with two long braids, wearing a suede outfit, dancing with her arms out as if she’s a plane… I see a yellow/golden snake slither up by my face, but I remain calm. For some reason, I know it’s not there to harm me. I see ants turn into termites and fly away… A flying dinosaur made of metal/iron in a metal/iron environment… I know it is a future alien. And I am part of that future alien world. I saw parts of kid’s toys… partial merry-go-round… Just for kicks, I ask “What is my purpose in life?” A Lego man wearing a royal blue top, with no hair, laying on a recliner, turns his head to face me. He has a wavy mustache. I burst out laughing. A lego man??
What am I supposed to do with that? I can’t stop grinning… so ridiculous.
Let’s get serious and do the work here… the effects don’t last that long.
I need to purge my past lives… I’m nauseous. Please don’t make me shit myself, please. I locate where the blockage is: my solar plexus. Again, no purging tonight. Others are in and out of the temple heaving all over the jungle. Their vomiting falls into alignment with the jungle soundtrack. Mother Ayahuasca, you don’t need to be this gentle with me tonight.
I can handle this. I got it. Let me have it.
The ceremony ends… We all leave the temple and head back to our rooms. Walking outside I find myself stumbling like a drunken fool. I tilt at the hip and vomit. Yellow, golden liquid shoots out of my mouth. No food. I’m puking up bile. Hard and fast. My solar plexus releases and opens up… Ahh, there’s the release. I feel better. Actually, I feel pretty damn good. This, is pretty cool.
I fall asleep without journeying.
My skin loves this tropical heat. My skin loves humidity. But there’s no escaping the heat. The only relief is pouring cold river water over myself in my concrete shower cubicle. I’m not a sweaty person, but within 40 minutes of having my cold rinse – beads of sweat trickle down my torso.
Everything’s damp. All the clothes, the bedding, even the wood used to make the huts are moist. Everything smells damp too. But my skin loves this weather – and the mosquitoes love me. Four different repellents do nothing to protect me. I become part of the food chain…
The heat is punishing. And it’s only May. Even the locals cannot tolerate the summers here. Seeing and playing with Woolly Monkeys made everything okay. Kids swim in/drink from the Amazon river. There are big, beautiful butterflies everywhere. I saw the most delightful creature: a pygmy Marmoset. The smallest monkey in the world… and I touched the largest snake in the world – the Anaconda… The most surprising was the Sloth. I never realized how incredibly slow they moved. How do they survive in the wild? They wear permanent smiles on their faces,
have the cutest bowl hair styles, and have the gentlest energy. Extremely fragile.
They are given long, tough claws and bristly outer hairs for protection.
Back to the hammock room to reflect… 24hrs after the ceremony, they allowed us to break our fast with salt and sugar. We are fortunate as some retreats don’t allow you to do that. We ate fruit, bread with butter and jam, even chicken. Divine… I think the diet is proving to be more challenging than the ceremonies themselves. Go figure; foodie.
I was told to connect with my inner-child for my third ceremony. “Connect with children, write books for children.” Don Lucho advised. I requested a bigger dose of Ayahuasca, it will give me a deeper cleanse and a more intense trip. I’m ready for my dark, rough, challenging, difficult experience.
I was sure I would have one. I need a massive spring clean.
I heal others for a living, and the healer needs healing!
The whistling started… then the Icaros with the Chacapas… I found myself in a bird’s nest… There were tiny freckled eggs around me; I was the first to hatch. A huge eye loomed in front of me. A bird of prey. Eagle? Hawk? Falcon? I don’t know… Then a flying owl. Then another bird of prey, dead. Blood spilled from it’s white breast. Aerial point of view of the Amazon river… women and children balanced on narrow bamboo planks on top of the water. How did these women manage to balance on these planks and work at the same time? Astounding. A paddling pool with murky water… sediments… A woman, a cross between Jane Fonda from Barbarella and Raquel Welch from One Million Years B.C. emerged out of it. Who knows… Then I was having sex with what seemed like a Black man… when zoomed in, it wasn’t a man at all – but a jet black shadow. No face, no features. Just a solid shadow… hmm… interesting… I saw a bright green leaf suspended in the air.
Then it was carried off in the wind: I was the leaf.
Then I was dandelion being blown away… with dozens of other dandelions…
I had drank six big gulps of the medicine, out of the man bowl. How comes I wasn’t purging? I located the blockage: in my second and fifth Chakra… Maybe when I walk back to my room…
And sure enough, like a stumbling drunk, zigzagging my way back to my room – I tilted at the hip and vomited bile – again. It’s weird how it bypasses the food… a bunch of us, donning white, scattered around the jungle floor hunched over. It was a funny sight. And we laughed. We laughed loudly.
Maestro Don Lucho mentioned me being of a high frequency. Born into freedom as a bird. Transforming DNA. I was to abandon the human concept of materialism from time to time. Put aside jewelry, clothes, money, income. Connect with nature. Share wealth to create harmony…
Connect with my spirit…
Before I came to Peru, I thought having three ceremonies was… excessive. One would be sufficient. One would be enough. And now that I’m here, I really could do with a ceremony every night! One is not enough. I’ve done three… and what have I learned? I don’t feel I’ve shifted that much. The visions are great – but I wanna release… some gunk. Obstacles, limitations, fears, phobias. I know I shouldn’t have any expectations and everyone gets the experience they need. But what is it I need?
By now, colonies of mosquitoes have feasted on me. I am responsible for raising good, strong baby mossies in this jungle. My left hand; covered in seventeen bites. My left butt cheek; over forty. If anything, I’ve learned I cannot live in the jungle. I am just food for the insects. Dammit my friends were right. This fantasy has been firmly ripped out of my library of escape clauses. I can testify that these mosquitoes do indeed have yellow fever. My Caucasian friends and Black friend was not feasted upon like my mother and I. They do seem to prefer the female sex…
Days rolled into one another, time goes by slowly when lying in hammocks… it’s so good to go without wifi particularly in this setting. There is no escape in the jungle.
For my fourth and final ceremony… I was instructed to feel. “Do not expect visions, just feel. Have no expectations, let it go, let it flow. Ask that your and my culture never die. Let it grow here. Let Ayahuasca transform you. Give it your mind, give it your body. Forgive your father.”
Hm. Okay. And so, I let it go and let it flow… I dove into my feelings… I felt every emotion there was. Anger, sadness, grief, joy, bliss, happiness, confusion, chaos, awe – I felt it all. The good, the bad, and the ugly. And then; I felt nothing. Huh. I don’t recall ever feeling nothing before… it’s… different. So what now? I continue listening to the Icaros…
I see a field of green plants with tiny yellow flowers but the view is distorted. Why is it blurry? Then I realize I am inside a single drop of water, hanging off a leaf. Wow… how did I become so tiny? How did I manage to fit inside a single drop of dew? I see a ‘web’ made of chili pepper Christmas lights. My ex-husband’s father (who’s passed) pops in to tell me “He should do this. You should get him to do this.” I look through the mosquito net, out into the jungle. I see the trees form into a Mermaid kneeling with her back to me, with her hands up in the air. Then a Ginseng root/worm with arms and legs climbs up a wooden fence. It’s arms and legs climbs – it’s torso ripples up.
A dragon’s claw pulls a crystal ball out of my stomach…
Don Lucho calls me up to his alter for a personal cleansing. I sit on a stool in front of him; his apprentice stands behind me. They sing and whistle and shake their leaves. His whistling enters my head, spirals down my neck and into my torso… A glass rod comes out of my core. I see my father, who’s passed. That’s right – I forgot about him… He sits there with a wide stance holding a cigarette in his hand. He nods to the floor in approval. “I have to release you,” I say. He nods again. “I have to forgive you and release you so you can ascend. My brother needs to release you too – but I’m going to release you.” He nods. Suddenly my chest is tight. I start to cry… “I forgive and release you.” My father starts crying too. We sit there crying together… “I’m sorry your life was so hard for you. That life itself, was hard for you.” He looks up and says “I’m sorry.” I knew he was… “I hope you have a better life next time round.” And with that, my chest opens up like a blooming flower and my forehead starts pulsating. I feel Don Lucho’s ring on my forehead. The Chakapas are fanning me. How lovely. Tears cascade down my face… and my father is gone…
My father hadn’t even crossed my mind when coming to Peru. But now that I’ve released him, I feel a big boulder has been extracted from deep within me.
Don Lucho smiled “Now you will find a nice man to marry and have healthy children.”
What?! I’m 40! I already have a child!
“You may have twins.”
We spent a night in Iquitos, before returning to the ‘concrete’ jungle of L.A… we were all sad to leave… something special was happening and we were saying goodbye to it. “The trick is to take it with you. Let it remain inside of you. Integrate it into your lives.” Don Lucho smiled.
He smiled a lot. “I have everything I need,” he’d say…
I left a piece of me in the Amazon… I returned to Los Angeles knowing I had gone through one of the most unique experiences of my life. And it didn’t even hit me till my last ceremony. Everything lead me to that moment… there were tears on the tuk-tuk, on the way to the airport.
Just like there is life before children, and life after having children… Ayahuasca is the same. There is life pre-aya. And life post-aya. With no turning back. What I learned, is when you look for the magic – it is there. That nature truly does provide. And that I will return to the jungle some day…
I have so much love around me. I should trust myself more. I am in awe at the magnitude of the infinite power… Pachamama.