[Part 3 of 5] Plant Medicine Trip Log — “Samsara”

I was transported from the Maloka (temple) into the jungle shortly after drinking Ayahuasca. It was dark, moist, and earthy. The singing of the shaman, the music from her instruments, the moans and sighs of my fellow viajeras (Ayahuasca “travellers”) all came together to create what my mind was able to make up as a “jungle orchestra”.

My body, out of its own will, twitched and twisted like a reptile. My bird-like face was smiling. The shaman became a motherly ape that was telling us a story and singing at the same time — not with words, but with sounds. My mind couldn’t comprehend it, but something in my body (and I noticed the bodies of others around me), understood it and enjoyed it. We all moved to the rhythm of the jungle.

And then it stopped. And all what was left was the void of silence.

There was a lot of preparation involved before our first Ayahuasca ceremony. We studied the mind and what goes on inside it during a psychedelic experience. The Yoga Sutras, an ancient scripture that explains this ancient practice, defines yoga as “calming the fluctuations of the mind”. In our waking state, brainwaves with high frequency (beta and alpha) are predominant. The yoga practice (mainly meditation and Yoga Nidra/sleep), and similarly the psychedelic experience, reduces these highly fluctuating brainwaves, giving rise to calmer frequencies (theta and delta). This voyage away from the noise into silence would lead to more clarity, the shaman assertively, yet lovingly, informed us. When the storm is over and the dust has settled, what are we able to see? What do we learn, and in which direction will we take our first step?

Apart from what was shared, I took two more things with me to the ceremony. The first was the learning from Huachuma: “Allow yourself to be cared for”. This served not only as an intention throughout the journey into the unknown, but also as a mantra that anchored me and made me feel grounded.

My second companion was a couple of charms I received from a father figure before coming to Peru. I travelled alone (I practiced it my whole life), but these were gifts that my chosen parent gave me to keep me company during the trip. “Allow yourself to be cared for”, I remembered, so I held them close (a miniature Buddha and a metal seashell emblem from the Camino de Santiago) as I entered the ceremony.

Kau saipa”, to life, I whispered before taking in the plant medicine. It was a brown brew from a vine and bush found in the Amazons. It tasted like bitter liquorice. A toast to life.

Little did I know that this drink was instead leading me to death.

The silence following the vibrant shamanic songs, was as loud and alive. There was a sound to it. But not long after I tuned in, I suddenly felt my body light and floating. I was going somewhere, or more aptly, melting into somewhere. I knew this was death and for a moment there was panic and resistance. I recalled the instructions from before, “breathe, trust, and let go”, and as I located my breath, I also found the courage to trust the experience and surrender to it.

The music began again as I disintegrated into stardust. The sounds became cheers, “GO, GO, GO!”, ending with a celebratory applause as I expanded into space, crossing what seemed as a threshold. I stayed in this blissful and peaceful place — state — before a moment of awakeness, of wonder: “What a great way to go!”. The thought came and passed in an instant.

And as quick as that, I woke up in a womb.

I was reborn as a cub. My pillows and blankets felt like the furry embrace of a mother bear or tiger. There was an underlying fear, especially as the creatures in the Maloka started to make noise. The one next to me roared like a beast. “Allow yourself to be cared for”, I remembered. This reassured me that the parent that was holding me, and the creatures surrounding us, would protect me and keep me safe. The primal cacophony morphed into a sweet-smelling melody and I observed my newborn self pulsing and giggling and in awe of everything around.

There were more deaths and rebirths. At one moment, I dissolved into the green energy of the jungle and then came back as a little creature of some sort. At another, I fused into bright light and was zapped back as a human baby. The cycle continued.

And it never stopped.

The endless repetition of the shamanic chants mirrored the incessant “Samsaras”. There was a pattern: After life came death, and after that, a new life. It was exhausting. I wondered what else was there beyond the loop.

Then out of nowhere, Morpheus from the Matrix appeared. He offered a red pill and a blue one. Of course, I took the red.

Everything disappeared. There was nothing. Complete stillness and silence. Nothing. I merged into this nothingness and noticed the “I” as something that was inhabiting this empty dark space. I was the “nothing” and the “something”. A cosmic puzzle presented itself. I was the void that contained the cycle, yet I was also the cycle and existed in it as well. Was I both?

Another figure appeared out of nowhere. “YAS! YOU. ARE. EVERYTHING!”, a hyper-enthusiastic brown-skinned drag queen (perhaps Morpheus in drag) exclaimed and snapped her fingers to each word. Another chorus of cheers erupted. The laughter of the Universe!

The learning was slowly taking form. It was crystal clear: “It doesn’t matter if you’re in the cycle or out of it. Nothing or everything. Accept it and enjoy it”.

I reached out to my yellow journal in the dark and wrote what seemed to be what I had to learn from dying a thousand times.

The night continued, and with it the existential loop. The music resumed and once it stopped, the silence revealed itself again. I knew that I was going to die soon. I knew that another life awaited. But my intention made me feel safe and secure. The metal Camino seashell and the mini Buddha in my hands also served to remind me to stay both focused and aware in this long journey.

But this new insight gave me a deeper appreciation for the “Now” — what was happening right here, right now. So transient. So fleeting. I would be in it, fully. I would be grateful for it. I would welcome it with an embrace and, shortly after, kiss it goodbye.

The medicine stayed with me that whole night (about 6 hours). More cosmic riddles were solved. Towards the end, I had the need to go to the bathroom and purge. It felt cathartic. A release.

Yet the experience wasn’t over. My body returned to the mat and died again. But something in me was still “there”. It observed, peacefully, my fellow retreaters, who were now congregating in the middle of the Maloka and feasting on snacks and stories. I watched over them with love, like a grandfather looking after their grandchildren. And after some time, they stood up one by one and left the temple, greeting me and checking-in on me before returning to their rooms.

I was alone in the Maloka when I was awoken by the early morning light. I stood up, feeling heavy, and slowly dragged myself back to my room, back to my bed. I opened the yellow journal, now under the Sun, and read a random scribble: “Accept and Enjoy”.

I took this in, and dosed off again.

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