I woke up the day after our third Ayahuasca ceremony, our 8th day at Amaru, to a shifting attitude. I was no longer feeling ill, and now, with the experience and confirmation of a rebirth on my mind, I took to the rest of my journey with a renewed determination. Our 8th day was not a challenging one; it was a day of reading, conversation, contemplation, and Wild Things watchin’. Mike, Frank and Krystle all concluded their heroic dietas and it was really great to have them back in the group. We also had a few new friends joining the party; Brit had been with us a couple of days now, but he went into his Tobacco Dieta shortly after we’d had the chance to no more than introduce ourselves; we also now had on this journey with us, Helane and Elena, who were now starting their dietas, but whom I’d met briefly the night before when I entered the maloka for the ceremony. This day was a good day. José bathed us in flower water on the dining room patio in preparation for the next day’s San Pedro ceremony, and after a lovely dinner, we all gathered together in the maloka in the evening, piled on a bunch of mats, and watched an episode of Wild Things with the amazing creators themselves. (A little shameless non-self promotion: if you’re interested in getting up close and personal with some of the wildest creatures this planet has to offer, with a completely fearless host and camera crew, then you need to watch that sh*t!) It was always so nice to have those guys around to assess and reassure when a spider the size of your hand walked by. I was beginning to really love it at Amaru, and I was feeling beyond excited for the next day’s San Pedro ceremony.
San Pedro is a cactus that grows indigenous to Peru, and its usage in ceremony dates back to over 3000 years ago. The mescaline contained in the flesh of the cactus creates an entheogenic experience that can be truly profound and healing to whoever consumes it. Before traveling to Peru, I had read about San Pedro’s ability to open your heart, and that where Ayahuasca might show you what needs to be changed in your life, San Pedro gives you whatever it is you need to actually make the change. What this was going to look like I wasn’t entirely too sure, but the gratitude, excitement, and awe I felt at the opportunity to drink this numinous plant was tremendous. Mike, Frank, and Dominic had all participated in a handful of San Pedro ceremonies before, and they were all very much looking forward. They explained to us that it makes for a really lovely time and that it’s completely unlike Ayahuasca in that, when you drink it, you remain feeling quite like yourself. We’d be able to carry on conversations and walk around, and we were likely to feel quite giggly, chatty, and introspective. This relieved any first-timer anxieties I may have had, and I went into the ceremony with less trepidation than any so far.
The following morning, after drinking about ⅓ of a glass of smoothie for breakfast, no more than allowed, we made our way to the maloka for 10am. The mat’s were set up in a small circle of 11 in the centre of the octagonal floor and no buckets at their sides. Prior to this, I had only seen the maloka dressed for an Ayahuasca ceremony, with mats and buckets bordering the edge of the walls, so I was pleasantly surprised at the sight this morning, and I appreciated the intimacy of the ceremony. Upon arrival, as he did at the beginning of each ceremony, Sto cleansed us with the smoke of some burning Palo Santo; front, back, top of the head, bottom of the feet. After we had all arrived and claimed our spot for the day, we sat and talked for a short while about what the day would look like. We would drink the San Pedro together, and then we would simply go about the day. A barefooted walk around the grounds was highly recommended; to feel the mud between our toes; to ground our energy with the Earth. We were told that down by the river we could do a clay bath or go for a swim, and it was suggested that we enjoy the occasional cold shower because the San Pedro can warm you up from the inside and because the cold water feels simply amazing. An invitation was also extended to each of us to visit Slocum’s tambo to receive a divination reading from Nicky and himself; a reading he said that could predict the way our days were going to proceed.
Slocum had with him at his side a tray containing 8 empty bowls stacked together; 8 tablespoons; a bowl filled with a light green powder that was the dehydrated San Pedro cactus; another bowl filled with tiny, halved limes; and a couple glass pitchers of water. He described to us how starchy the San Pedro is and that the longer you take to stir and drink it, the thicker and thicker it becomes, and you’ll end up eating the gnarliest pudding of your life if you take too long. After saying a prayer to Mother Earth and God above, we began. Slocum filled the first bowl with about a cup and a half of water and then spooned 2 mountainous tablespoons of San Pedro into the water and gave it a little stir. He passed it to his right, and we passed it around the circle until the person to his left was holding the bowl, and we repeated this until everyone was holding, stirring, and chugging a bowl of San Pedro.
When I received my bowl, I gave it a pretty good quick stir and despite it not being fully dissolved, I started chugging it. I noticed immediately that it was worse than I thought it was going to be. It tasted quite like one might expect a cactus to taste; it was quite bitter, green and earthy; fairly mild and not entirely appalling, at least in comparison to the Tobacco and the Ayahuasca; but the texture combined with the taste is what took this drink from possibly bearable to kind of totally horrendous. It was chunky and slimy and powdery and it really did thicken rather quickly. Perhaps it would be a good comparison to say it felt like eating a poorly dissolved tapioca pudding. The limes, though! Aaah, the limes were the sour sugar that helped this medicine go down. They were only about an inch in diameter and they tasted like a cross between a lime and a mandarin. I’d take 3 or 4 good chugs of the San Pedro and then take a squeeze of lime, take a few chugs and then a squeeze of lime. I’d say I did that about 4 or 5 times; it was a lot to drink. But again there is always that sense of pride looking into the bottom of the empty bowl and an anticipation for what’s to come next.
I’d estimate that it was about an hour after I emptied my bowl when I made my way to Slocum’s tambo for my divination reading with Nicky and himself. As I stood outside the tambo waiting for Krystle’s reading to end, I could feel the San Pedro slowly coming alive inside of me. I was feeling rather light and aerated, and there was an overwhelming calm beginning to wash over me. When it was my turn to go into the room behind the curtain, Slocum and Nicky were sitting on mats in the center of the floor; mapachos in hand, a bag of coca leaves in front of Nicky, coca leaves in his mouth, and an unoccupied mat for me. I sat down, and Nicky shuffled a deck of cards and passed them to me. The cards felt large and heavy in my hands and I felt dreamy as I shuffled them, split the deck into three, stacked them back together, and fanned them out on the floor in front of me; as per Nicky’s request. He told me to pick a card, and I slowly moved my hand over the cards as my eyes closed gently, and I felt for any sign of life from the cards below. I stopped my hand and picked up the card beneath and handed it to Nicky. The Blue Heron. Slocum opened up a large book and found in it the pages about the Blue Heron and passed it to me to read.
The blue heron stands in the water and looks at his reflection below him. If the water at his feet is calm and steady, the heron’s reflection will be clear, calm, and steady. But if the water is disturbed, if there are ripples in the water, the reflection that the heron sees will also be disturbed. The card calls for self reflection in order to find your truth; to dive deep into your thoughts and emotions and clear away the disturbances below the surface that create the ripples in the reflection. The blue heron also asks that in your self-reflection you not be overly critical of yourself. Obsessing over imperfection doesn’t allow yourself enough room to just be human.
After I finished reading about the Blue Heron, we did the same thing again with a second deck of cards, and this time, the card that asked to be chosen was the West Shield.
The west shield encourages you to be courageous in the face of the unknown future. To find solitude and discover the path that comes from within. It urged me to follow my intuition; to act and stop holding back.
When the cards were finished with their guiding words, both Slocum and Nicky offered up their own words of wisdom, and provided me with practices that I could take home with me. I left the tambo and went back to the maloka feeling inspired, dreamy, and mud between my toes.
Shortly after getting back to the maloka, while Dom’s music played on in the background, I sat cross-legged on my mat and I began to lose myself in the study of my hands as I was becoming aware of San Pedro’s effects on my perception of things. I looked at my palms, the lines that are supposed to predict my life; I looked at the backs, the ones I’m supposed to know better than I know anything else. I looked at the scars, the tattoos, forever etched onto the skin. I saw the stories that these hands hold onto so dearly; stories of mistakes made, lost love, tempers lost, and family bonds. I looked at my hands and I felt as though I was seeing them more clearly and genuinely than I ever had before. I was looking at them as I might look at a lover’s hands; with a tenderness and an appreciation that doesn’t often accompany the gaze with which I look at myself. As I reflected on the stories that my hands can tell, I felt a true gratitude for them, for all that I’ve experienced because of them; from making art to making love, from holding brand new life to touching ancient history. Looking at my hands through San Pedro coloured sunglasses, all judgement had washed away, and I knew that these two hands are utterly magnificent hands.
After sharing some of my thoughts, a few scar stories, and a moment with Frank, who had come bounding into the maloka and expressed interest in my thoughts, I layed down, closed my eyes and proceeded to melt into my mind and melt into my mat. As I lay there with my eyes closed, I became hypnotized by a spectacle of colours and patterns that transmogrified in a brilliant show that now occupied the once black void behind my lids. I lay there a while, dazzled and daydreaming, when the colours transformed into a dim image of an army of ants marching crosshatched through my vision. The general of this army then appeared huge and in the center of my vision and he was looking at me. I just lay there, looking back, and I got this strong impression that he wanted me to stand up and go for a walk, to join in on the march, and I felt that I had to obey his command. I stood up and I left the maloka, and stepping onto the walkway outside, I exploded into a hundred unexpected tears.
The thoughts I’d been having about my hands had turned into thoughts about my whole self. I was now looking at the me I used to be as clearly as I had been looking at my hands, and I could see the scars and the memories that have been etched, seemingly forever, into my heart; my soul; my self image. I could see me at 12, 16, 18, 22 years old, and I was looking with eyes filled full of compassion. I could see my heavy heart and my racing mind, my chaos and my order, my strength and my weakness. I could see how hard I’ve been on myself my whole life, and how much effort I’ve put into trying to understand myself and my place in this world. Always trying to find where I fit in, but always standing out. Always standing out, but never feeling seen. Wanting to be seen, but hiding a lot away. I saw how unhealthy my thought patterns have been for most of my life, and how much harder I made things on myself for things that only lived inside my head. I saw how unhealthy my thought patterns still were, and I began to wonder, what’s the purpose in working so hard at trying to become someone I could love, if I’m never going to stop to recognize that I’m already worthy of love; that I’m deserving of my own forgiveness; that my uncertainties and weaknesses do not define my unworth. With the wisdom of Osho still flowing thick in my mind, I was vividly aware that holding onto yesterday only served to add unnecessary weight onto today, and I realized that letting go of the past doesn’t have to mean forgetting; it just means moving upward and onward, unburdened by the unchangeable. I was beginning to feel lighter already, and a ripple in my reflection began to fade away.
As I walked along the walkway, eyes red from crying, Slocum passed by and let me know that the fruit bowls had been delivered to the maloka. I was hard-core looking forward to that fruit bowl, but I was now feeling a little self conscious about the rawness of my face and of my feelings. For a brief moment I had the urge to go back to my room and clean myself up a little in front of the mirror before heading back to the maloka, but then I reminded myself of the journey I was on; a journey of self-acceptance, vulnerability, and growth. I went back with the last 15 minutes written all over my face. No one questioned the crying, and we all went to heaven over the most beautiful bowls of fruit we’d ever had. I swear that bowl was glowing with a divine inner light and you could almost hear angels singing praise. I mourned the loss of the fruit with each bite as the emptying of this bowl was not so satisfying to see as some other bowls this week, but it was the absolute most satisfying to consume. There came a point not too long after the eating of this divine fruit, with emotion still running deep in my veins, when the music Dom had playing also became quite emotional, and it completely consumed me. I curled up onto my side and again I began to cry.
The songs playing were about love, and so this time, I was crying for love. I cried for my fairy tale ending that did not end so happily ever after. I used to be a hopeless romantic and I was in love with a man that I knew in my heart was my forever, that we were meant to be. But when forever and meant-to-be turned out to be not quite 8 years and meant-to-be-apart, all of my beliefs about love, marriage, family, and the future completely disappeared. I lost everything I believed in, and 4 years later, after finding invaluable new pieces of me, I still could not find that piece of me I had lost. I cried for the soul loss. For the piece of me that used to love madly and passionately and wholeheartedly. Love and loss had left me disillusioned and broken, and I believed that the butterflies were never going to come back.
Curled up and crying, while listening to the sad songs and the cries of another heavy heart behind me, I began contemplating, more or less, the saying that everyone learns when they experience a broken heart, If you love something, let it go. If it comes back to you, it’s yours forever and blah blah blah. I quite dislike that saying, but the movies always made it look so romantic. The day we would find each other again, years down the road, as better people, having lived life for ourselves and finding out who we really are. This was an idea I found intriguing even before the split. The idea of taking a break. Having time to just do me; to find myself and still not have lost my forever love forever. I realized that this romantic notion was still hiding away in the subconscious of my heart, and it made me feel sick to my stomach at the thought of it. This simply was not how I felt anymore. I reminded myself that I’m happy in this life I’ve built for myself, happier than I’ve ever been, and I would never dream of going back to the past or having the past come back to me. I thought about him and I wished for him with all of my heart that he and his new love are so happy and that together they are only looking forward. I wished about the same for myself, and another ripple began to fade away.
In beauty timing, as my thoughts were concluding themselves and my tears drying up, Dom changed the music to a Monty Python skit called A Minute Passed and I went from crying to laughing hysterically in an instant. Thanks Dom, that was necessary and perfect.
It was sometime around now that I took my first shower of three that day. San Pedro showers are an absolutely magical experience. The cold water pouring down around me felt not like a cold shower but like a waterfall that I was born to stand under; like for my whole life I hadn’t been breathing and the water was breathe itself. It was truly spectacular. Those showers cleansed my soul more than they did my body. Each time I went back to the water it was a pull I couldn’t deny, and dripping wet without a towel each time, I would put my clothes back on and go lay down on my mat, wearing the water as comfortably as I wore my own skin.
While on a walk intended to reach the river, I stopped instead at a little sitting area close to the entrance of the walkway, the end from the direction I was going. This sitting area was elaborately decorated with little glass tiles, and according to Slocum, it was built especially for the people on San Pedro. It bridged the skinny little creek who’s water they used in the making of the Ayahuasca. I had always felt this spot to be especially bad for mosquitos and other creepy crawlies, and so I never felt inspired enough to actually sit down and chill for longer than a quick moment. On this day, however, I was feeling beyond relaxed and at peace with all of the nature, so, wearing just my short jean shorts, a t-shirt, and not a spritz of bug spray, I draped myself over one of those benches and felt my body melt (and I don’t use that word lightly) into it just as it had my mat. I felt utterly blissful. I could feel my heart’s energy emanating outward like light from an open doorway into a dark room, and for every bit that poured out, the sun replaced with its own. I could feel the sunlight absorbing into every ounce of my being, and my thoughts were going, going, gone.
During my time on this mosaic bridge above the creek, I was graced with the presences of both Delara and Frank. Delara mentioned never having seen someone so relaxed before, and I felt this to be true. While I sprawled, they sat, and we shared in quite a personal and powerful conversation about love, life, and death. The heart of which I knew I would never forget. During this conversation, I mostly listened, offering up words to the wise when it felt pointedly right to do so. I was feeling beyond connected to absolutely everything except for my own voice, but, either way, it just felt so good to listen.
The majority of my day was spent becoming one with my mat, completely relaxed and introspective. There were times when I felt so relaxed lying there that it felt like my body had disappeared completely and I’d move a finger to double check that it was, in fact, still there. Other times, when I was aware of sensations occurring in my body, I felt like either a furnace had been kicked on inside my skin, or like I had menthol coursing through my veins. When I wasn’t running away with my thoughts or watching the colour show behind my eyelids, I would lose time marveling at the construction of the maloka. The log roof painted an image in my head of the maloka as a giant spider web, and I felt that we had all been caught inside it. After recently discovering that in my room every day were not dead spiders, but shed skins, the spider, or the Wolf Spider in particular, had begun to take on a lot of symbolic meaning for me. The shedding of an old skin; the shedding of the past; the birth of a new self. Laying there, I had a vision with my eyes closed of a spider’s skin stretched across the darkness, and I laughed and proclaimed to myself, I am a wolf spider! because I too was shedding a skin, and I too was in a state of transformation.
It was sometime around 6pm, at an hour long before the San Pedro wore off, and long before we finally went to bed, when we all gathered together again in the maloka to share some words and to conclude the ceremony. We went around the circle, each one of us picking a word that could summarize our days; I chose the word shedding.
Dinner was served as usual at 7pm in the dining room, and tonight it was a hearty vegetable soup, made with the intentions of bringing our energies back down to earth. When I finally made my way to the dining room, I was still feeling rather emotional, quiet, and introspective. I sat beside Delara and slowly ate my small bowl while Dominic, Mike and Frank shared stories. Their energies reminded me of my dad and of my brother, and I began to miss them dearly. I then asked if I could squeeze on in between them as I wanted (needed) to be inside that energy. Now, with Frank to my right and Mike to my left, we listened while Dom told a bittersweet and playful story about his grandfather, and again I began to tear up. Partly because the story was so lovely, and partly, because I was now thinking about my own grandfather who had passed away a year prior.
When the guys had left the dining room, Delara and I remained and we both opened up about our families and our lives growing up. We missed our families in that moment more than I think either of us ever had, and we were excited to be going home for the holidays after this. I felt strongly about wanting to see my mom, to just sit and watch a movie with her; to sit and talk. I wanted to tell her that I’m sorry for not always being patient with her, that I understand her, that she’s beautiful, and that I love her so much.
I was also feeling quite strongly about all the food that was going to be around when I got back. I was nervous to put anything unclean in my system after such a cleanse as this, but we were talkin Christmas dinner here! Sugar! Rum and Egg nogs! After hearing Delara describe some of the authentic Iranian dishes her mother made though, I was starting to think I wanted to go home with her instead. We ended up talking until the candles that lit our dinner had burned themselves out (and the wood slab they were sitting on), and I think we both walked away from the conversation with a new understanding of, and appreciation for, our families.
We made our way back to the maloka and spent the next four hours, Delara, Mike, Krystle, and myself, waiting for the San Pedro to burn itself out just as the candles had. The maloka was dark and crawling with life, but it felt necessary to be in the presence of each other. The magnitude with which you could feel the energy of those around you was spectacular and lasting. The final time my heart felt heavy that day, was when I tried and failed at saving the life of a spindly little fly whose legs got stuck in the melted wax of a candle that had been lighting the small patch of floor in front of me. I got it out of the wax, but then it just struggled about on the floor as its two wax coated legs weighed it down. I struggled to find an answer as to how to remove this wax, but a small army of ants came marching out of their hole in a crooked slab of wood and quickly dismembered my tiny little buddy and took it away, leaving no evidence behind of its wee life. I felt heart broken and helpless, but also extremely fascinated by the ants. Oh, the things we miss when we’re not looking close enough.
Crying for an entire day, to most, probably sounds like an awful way to spend a day and just as bad as all of the vomiting I had been doing with the other medicines, but this was in no way, shape, or form a bad day; emotional, yes, but insanely beautiful too. I had gone into this day with the intentions of reconnecting with my heart, and San Pedro Sunday had cracked my heart wide open. Over the course of 13 hours, my heart had been forever changed, and my appreciation and acceptance for both my past and my unveiled self had grown exceptionally. This day was one of the most beautiful and spiritually empowering of my life and I will forever be thankful for it. I write these final sentiments, 1 day shy of a year since I drank my bowl of cactus slime, and the feeling in my heart remains as strong as ever. I still had three more days remaining at Amaru, and if I thought I had felt fucking magical then, well I still had no idea. The best was yet to come.