It was about 7:30 pm as I sat kneeled in front of the shaman in the darkened jungle Maloka. I had dreamed of this moment for years, and it was as perfect as I ever could have imagined. Jose, a real-life Amazonian shaman was before me, and he had just poured me a serving of the liquid spirit and passed it my way. I held the small cup gently with both hands and I took a deep breath, savoring the moment and calming my nerves. I had been curious for years what the brew tasted like, and I was seconds away from finding out. I raised the cup to my lips and I drank back the Ayahuasca in one gulp. I thanked Jose and I quietly walked back to my spot along the wall, an expression of disgust growing on my face. Calmly but urgently I started rinsing my mouth out with water as soon as I made it back to my mat. I expected the Ayahuasca to taste unpleasant and I was absolutely correct. It’s completely unlike anything I’ve tasted before. It has an acrid, bitter, acidic earthy taste. It’s thick and coats your mouth. Water was splashing on bucket bottoms all around the Maloka. I found out later into the trip that they use the water from the little stream that runs through Amaru Spirit in the making of their Ayahuasca. The water is acidic and the Ayahuasca needs that. It’s also very dark and I would never dream of wanting to drink it, so when I first heard this, I was kind of taken aback. After thinking on the idea longer, however, I came to the conclusion of how beautiful it was; this Ayahuasca was 100% pure jungle juice. If it contained the spirit of the trees, then it must also contain the spirit of the river, and that is a beautiful thing! (I must admit, this kind of thinking was inspired by the San Pedro I had drunk that day. I’ll get more into that in Part 4)
As I lay on my mat waiting patiently for something to happen, the silence in the Maloka was replaced with the sound of Jose singing icaros – the songs taught to him by the Ayahuasca. He sang the songs and shook his chakapa – “shaker or rattle constructed of bundled leaves”, Wikipedia – for the entire ceremony. I was feeling quite sick to my stomach ever since I drank back the Ayahuasca. It has a very strong presence inside your stomach and you can feel it like an animal trying to escape. I managed to hold it in for maybe 20/30 minutes, and you know, I thought it was bad going down, but I had never really imagined what it’d be like on the way back up. There was more of it now because of all the water you drink before a ceremony, and I could now smell it wafting back up into my face from the bottom of the bucket; it was in my nose and it was dripping from my lips. How wonderful. I was thankful for the darkness. I lay back down and my stomach went back to normal. For 4 hours I just lay there listening to Jose’s Icaros, people vomiting here and there, and to the thoughts that whirled around in my head. I discovered later that I missed the call to go up for a second cup. Had I fallen asleep? Or were my thoughts just louder than Sto’s voice? I’m honestly not really sure, I thought I had been awake, but anyway, had I heard the offer, I would have gone up and drunk again because unfortunately, my one cup had not affected me at all aside from some fleeting colours in the black behind my eyelids. I took note of seeing a particularly bright indigo whirling around.
Nearing the end of the 5 hour ceremony, I could hear the icaros and the sound of the chacapa getting closer and closer to me, and I could hear Sto speaking every so often, but I couldn’t make out what was being said. Just listening in the darkness, I had no idea what was going on, but then Jose and Sto made their way to my side, Jose sat on my left, Sto on my right. Can you turn onto your back? I rolled onto my back from my side and using his flashlight to see, Jose poured some Agua de Florida (flower water) onto his chacapa, turned out the light, and began agitating the chacapa over my head and chest while singing an icaro just for me. I could smell the flower water as the leaves danced on my face, and I felt completely at peace. I still had no idea what was happening, but I liked it. Can you sit up? Sto whispers to me. Put your hands together like this. He had me put my hands out in a cupped fashion, and Jose poured the flower water into my palms and had me close them together. He then blew the smoke of his mapacho down my hands from my fingertips and Sto instructed me to rub the water on my forehead and over my head. Jose sucked some sort of energy out of the top of my head with his breath and then blew his mapacho smoke down my chest, down my back, and over my head, and his work with me was done. When Jose had finished with each one of us, the three candles were once again lit and placed in the center of the Maloka floor, and fruit and tea were served. By this time it was midnight or shortly after, and we all joined each other in the middle of the floor, ate mangoes whole by peeling them with our teeth, and shared our stories (or lack thereof) from the evening.
I was feeling a little disappointed that I hadn’t had the experience I was hoping for during the Ayahuasca ceremony. I didn’t realize prior to going to Peru that it was possible not to go on a journey after drinking the medicine, but it turns out there are many reasons why someone may not have a breakthrough. Things like; feeling too much fear; your diet leading up to the ceremony, eating foods like pork and red meat; having cannabis in your system; an overactive mind; misaligned energy; and the more obvious answers, not drinking enough of the medicine or purging it too quickly. It can sometimes take many ceremonies, or many cups to break through. I believe none of us first timers went on a grand journey that evening, perhaps Kat did, I remember vaguely, but Mike, Frank, and Dominic were veterans of the drink and the Ayahuasca loved it when they came to visit, taking them on wild rides every ceremony. I was so anxious to experience what they’d experienced, and I was so close! During a group powwow the next morning, I was reassured that the master plant cleanse we were all entering into that afternoon would help give me the Ayahuasca breakthrough I was anticipating during the next ceremony. I was feeling hopeful.
The tobacco Dieta
During the tobacco cleanse, we were to spend our time isolated in our rooms, exploring our inner world without distraction. So after spending the morning reading and chatting with the others, I made my way back to my room where I wouldn’t leave until two mornings later. I wasn’t back in my room long before I heard Slocum and Sto make their way up the walkway, and then up the stairs to my room. They came in, bringing a bucket with them and placed it next to me as we all sat down on the floor in the center of my room. I was feeling rather nervous; for the taste, and for having spectators watching me vomit. The thought of vomiting into a bucket in front of these two guys was not a pleasant idea to me. I tend to care about the way I present myself to people and vomiting into a bucket is not exactly a part of this image. I had no idea what to expect, but I reminded myself that, I guess this is what they do, they watch everyone vomit, so who really cares?! I’m not trying to impress them anyway.
Slocum lights his mapacho, and explains to me how this would work. I would drink the tobacco and they would sit with me a few moments, maybe I’d purge right away, maybe later in the day. When they left, I’d lay down in my bed, and I’d simply go into my thoughts or, if I preferred, I could read. On a diet like this, however, you shouldn’t read just any book, so Slocum carefully picked out books for each of us. For me, he picked out Tao: The Pathless Path by Osho. I thought, what an incredibly appropriate title to choose for me, thanks! We hadn’t known each other long, but Slocum was already getting a sense of who I was, and everyone else for that matter. I felt that and appreciated it immensely. Slocum then pulls the bottle from his bag, the clear plastic water bottle filled with the thick, dark medicine. It looked dreadful. It looked a lot like the Ayahuasca. I saw the bottle, but then I saw the bowl. The BOWL! This was no Ayahuasca cup. How much did I need to drink?! While he poured the brew into the bowl, there was a brief moment when I thought he might never stop pouring. After what felt like forever, he set the bottle back down, took a puff from his mapacho and then blew the smoke over the bowl, and he passed it my way. Ooh, fuck... I’m not ready for this. I looked gravely at the bowl, and it was a mighty full bowl. I knew I needed to get this down in one shot or it wasn’t all going down. I took a deep breath, as I had to do a lot here, I raised the bowl to my mouth and I started chugging. It took an entire 4 or 5 big gulps to get down. Omg omg omg. I thought the Ayahuasca was bad, HOW IS THIS WORSE?!
“Is there garlic in there”? My face contorted.
It tasted like raw garlic and tobacco brewed together as strong and as dark as you can imagine.
“What do you feel?”
“I feel.. it moving. It’s heavy in my stomach, but I can feel it going up into my chest now… Oh, it’s in my stomach again..”
After about 4 minutes of breathing and exploring the way the medicine felt in my body, with Slocum and Sto sitting there looking at me, my head was over the bucket and the tobacco was now on the bottom of it. With my head still in the bucket, I heard Slocum and Sto say some sort of congratulation and they left me for the night.
I spent the rest of that second day at Amaru lazing, with a 3L bottle of water that Slocum gave me, my flashlight, a headlamp, my notebook, the new book, and my thoughts. I was completely absorbed by the book. It was a very powerful read for such an evening as this. Osho was speaking directly to my soul. An aspect of the book that still stands out in my mind is the lessons about not comparing one’s own life to anyone else’s, for better or for worse. That true happiness cannot be achieved in comparison. It can only be found inside your own self, in your own values and in your own life. If you place your happiness on the idea of being thankful for things you have that others don’t, whether it be a roof over your head, food on your table, or your health, then your happiness is dependent on the suffering of others. This is not a positive thing, this is not true happiness and it can be taken away just as quickly as it came. You could look at your house, your food, your health, and look to someone with a more magnificent house, more elaborate meals on the table, or running a marathon you could never dream of finishing, and now suddenly, your happiness is replaced with jealousy. Comparison could also lead you down a path you never wanted to be on in the first place. You could end up reaching the end, only to look back and realize that your success is actually a failure because it was not what you had ever desired in the first place. The book teaches you to follow your own truth and intuition, whatever that may look like.
Looking at my own life, if I compare myself to people with houses and families and stable careers, than I see things that I lack, the things people expect from you as you grow up. There are times when this can nag at my mind, but I’ve realized that it’s not me who wants these things, not now anyway, it’s just society trying to program me into thinking I need these things right now in order to be happy and successful. I used to desire this kind of life, and I used to live for love. I used to think I wanted a life of domesticity, and I spent 8 years with a man that I was madly in love with, aiming our sights in this direction. He knew what his path looked like, had a career, knew where he wanted us to live, where our kids would go to school, but I could never quite grasp a vision of my own path. I always jumped around a lot, but being tethered to his maintained and manicured path, my own was starting to look an awful lot like his, and that truly frightened me. It felt like water slowly building up in my lungs and I was drowning in all of the experiences that I would never have. Losing him tore me and my life apart but I was no longer tethered to anything. My path now bends and curves like the Amazon river through the jungle, magnificent in its meandering, overgrown with wild flora and wonder. I live from moment to moment, moving with the everchanging landscape of my mind. I thrive on change. New adventures and teachings are always welcome. I don’t know what all of my tomorrow’s will bring but I’m excited by the endless possibilities. My map is not a path, its a pathless path, a connect the dots that is slowly turning into the most magnificent piece of art. And I am now completely at peace with that.
Excerpt from Tao: The Pathless Path, by Osho
“That’s why Taoism is not organized religion – cannot be. It is an organic religion. You can be a Taoist if you simply live your life authentically, spontaneously, if you have the courage to go into the unknown on your own, individual, not leaning on anybody. Not following anybody, simply going into the dark night not knowing whether you will arrive anywhere or you will be lost. If you have the courage, that risk is there – it is risky, it is adventurous.
Christianity, Hinduism, Mohammedanism, are superhighways; you need not risk anything, you simply follow the crowd, you go with the mob. With Tao you have to go alone, you have to be alone. Tao respects the individual and not the society. Tao respects the unique and not the crowd. Tao respects freedom and not conformity. Tao has no tradition. Tao is a rebellion, and the greatest rebellion possible.
That’s why I call Tao “the pathless path.” It is a path but not like other paths. It has a very different quality to it: the quality of freedom, the quality of anarchy, the quality of chaos.”
As the night went on I began to feel completely weakened by the tobacco and the lack of food. My last substantial meal was lunch the day before and the dinner brought to my room that night did not inspire my already wavering appetite. I was delivered a bowl with a plate on top that held two small bananas. In the bowl was an earthy grey, dense and jelly looking mush, and it had an indentation in it from the bottom of the plate. I couldn’t bring myself to eat it, and I only finally ate a banana around 2 am. I found out two days later that it was oatmeal in the bowl.
The next morning, after quite a restful sleep and vivid dreams, I was delivered my breakfast by one of the young men that worked there. I super wish I could remember his name. He spoke Spanish, and it was always entertaining trying to communicate with him and the other Spanish speakers. That morning, he had brought me a large glass of warm, freshly juiced, carrot celery juice. If I liked celery it would have been delicious, but I super do not, and it super was not. I tried to drink it, I knew I needed something in my stomach, but I only managed to get down about a fifth of it. I felt horrible wasting it, but I just couldn’t do it.
A couple hours later, at 10am, Slocum and Sto stopped by to give me my second round of the tobacco drink. We sat, briefly chatted about my dreams, Slocum poured me my medicine, I breathed deeply, I drank the drink and I once again vomited into the bucket. I was not enjoying this in the slightest, but I was still full of trust and hope in this master plant. I spent the day in much the same way as I spent the day before. Lazing in my bed, lazing in my hammock. Entertained by the sounds of swaying trees and croaking frogs, the songs of countless birds and crickets. Their music interrupted every so often by the sound of a fellow groupie vomiting somewhere through the trees. My mind felt clear and stress-free. I continued to immerse myself in the teachings of Osho and the Tao. I continued to contemplate my life, and my diet became a hot topic on my mind. I thought about how beautifully they eat there, such an abundance of fresh veggies and fruit. The food was flavourful and beautiful in its simplicity, and they ate primarily for health, not pleasure. I determined that afternoon that this was how I would like to continue eating, I felt inspired.
As the day crawled forward, I found myself absolutely dreading the thought of drinking a third time. I had half a mind to politely decline. I really wanted to do what Slocum felt was right for me to do, I trusted him and I trusted the medicines, but I wasn’t really seeing the point of going through all of this. I wanted to get out of my room and go for a walk, I wanted to interact with the others, I wanted a real meal, and I did not want to taste that drink again and to vomit for the second time that day… I never lost my excitement for being there, but I was starting to feel a bitter undertone about the whole situation. I thought being there was going to be more fun, but this was proving a little more difficult than expected. I thought I was so connected and spiritual and all magical and shit, but maybe I’m just not as connected as I thought. My heart was broken over the Ayahuasca not working for me, and now this bitter medicine was really hard to swallow. Am I just not cut out for this?! What if none of it ever works?! What if I go home and it was all a waste?! I knew this wasn’t going to be easy. I came here to be strong. I have to be strong. I am strong! I reminded myself that I had gotten through the Ayahuasca, and I had gotten through the tobacco twice already. I only have to get through one more, and the Ayahuasca should feel like a breeze the next time. I was so incredibly thankful I didn’t have to drink the tobacco 5 more times like Mike, Frank, and Krystle all had to do. Their stories, however, are inspiring. They are not mine to tell, but I will say that I hope someday I will have the strength in me to complete a 7 drink dieta the way they did that week, and that’s 7 drinks over 6 days. Big kudos to them all!
Around 3:30 that afternoon, Delara and I panicked a little when we heard Sto and Nicky’s footsteps on the walkway outside. My stomach was in my throat. On this occasion, unlike the first two times when I heard their feet climbing the steps to my room, I instead heard the door to Delara’s room below. YES! She’s going first this time! The two of us had spoken through the walls briefly that afternoon, and I knew that she had been despising this moment just as much as I was. I felt bad for her that the moment was upon her, but I was relieved for the few extra minutes I got to prepare myself. I heard muffled chatter below me that sounded a lot like Delara debating Nicky on the purpose and usefulness of the drink and I found comfort in the height of her trepidation in accordance with my own. It wasn’t long before the sounds of protest became the sound of vomiting and at that moment I knew that if Delara could drink it one last time, I certainly could too. Sitting in my room, listening to Delara puke her guts out, I again heard the sound of her door, and then again those steps I dreaded so much. I hear Sto call out my name and announce their arrival and I want somehow for this to not be happening.
Again I found myself sitting cross-legged beside the red bucket I was really starting to despise. Nicky and Sto sat cross-legged on the floor in front of me, Nicky, always with his bag of coca leaves and mapacho. I spoke to Nicky about my feelings regarding the lackluster experience I was having with the tobacco, and he asked me about the kinds of thoughts and dreams I’d been having. He reminded me that this is how it works. It helps to clear your head and your energy. It helps you work through your thoughts and come to conclusions easier. As he poured the tobacco into the bowl, I gagged just looking at it. I didn’t want to fail this. I didn’t want to fail Nicky and Sto and Slocum, and myself. To come all of this way and not be strong enough to do it just wasn’t good enough. I was in this for the whole ride. I wanted to attack this journey with all the strength I could muster, I calmed my nerves, I swallowed my stomach, and I drank the third drink down. I threw up not 2 minutes later but I felt accomplished and super proud of myself for getting through it. And my day continued as it had been.
That evening, Delara and I broke our dieta rules and decided to hang out for a bit in my room. Our dinners were brought to us that evening, and since we had finished all three of our drinks, we were able to eat a bit more substantially. We sat around the little square table and ate in the darkness, our plates lit up only by the light of two candles. Our dinner, our ‘salad’, consisted of a few boiled potatoes, many slices of cucumber and a giant mound of shredded carrot. It was strange to eat so much shredded carrot, but at that moment it was all so welcome in my mouth and in my belly. As we sat there in the darkness talking about life and sharing insights from the books Slocum had chosen for us, I felt something hit the left side of my chest. I looked down and there on my chest I saw a huge 2-inch long cockroach. I screamed and I flailed and I ripped my shirt off and threw it on the floor. Omg omg omg! My shirt! IT’S MOVING!! AAH! As I stood there freaking out, another one flew at me! We’re under attack! I managed to get the cockroach out of my shirt by dragging it to the door and tossing it onto the step outside. But then when I attempted to catch the next cockroach with a glass, a third cockroach came flying at us, and I screamed and dropped the glass, smashing it into pieces. The broken glass might have you think otherwise, but I’ve become a pro at catching and releasing spiders back home, so amidst the freakout, I managed to get rid of the cockroaches with Delara’s unbroken glass and a book. Now we were both feeling mighty uncomfortable in the darkness, unsure of what creepy crawlies might be hiding, so we decided to explore the tambo up and down with our flashlights. That night, including the ones that attacked us, we found 4 cockroaches, 4 large spiders, 1 gecko, and one 3 inch long millipede. We screamed so many times, Sto came to the room asking What’s with all the screaming ladies? He laughed at us when we told him about the attack and all of the creepy visitors we’d found. He reminded us that we’re in a jungle and it kind of comes with the territory, and he told us that maybe it’s best if we didn’t go searching for them because that’s the best way to ensure finding them. He was absolutely right, but after that night, it became a tradition for the two of us to search each other’s rooms when we made it back each evening. At least then we knew what to be wary of. That night, I had two more visitors to my room and they stayed all evening until I left the next morning; Gaia and because I don’t know the other’s name, I’ll make it up and call her Goldie, two of the dogs that live at Amaru. They came right to my door wanting in so I gave them head scratches and they slept on my floor until the morning.
Looking back at the dieta, I am more thankful for the experience now than I was during it. It showed me a strength inside of myself that I didn’t know I had, a strength I was going to need to make it through the rest of the trip. The time spent with no distractions, focused solely on myself and my book, made for some real lasting changes in my life regarding my perspectives towards diet and living on this pathless path. Not only am I thankful for the things I experienced during the dieta, but also, for what it helped me experience two days later at the second Ayahuasca ceremony. Without the tobacco, who knows if I would have had the breakthrough that I did. And as difficult as both experiences were, I regret not a moment of any of it.
Read about my first Ayahuasca breakthrough in Part 3