So I did ceremony #4, even after promising myself that I wouldn’t, during the early throes of ceremony #3. When I arrived at the maloca, however, I discovered that there were only nine mats in our circle instead of 11. A quick scan of the room indicated that K and G, the guys from NYC, weren’t there. I thought maybe K had gotten spooked by his last trip so their absence made sense; maybe they decided to sit this one out and slide through to our exit. We were so close.
My mat was next to H this time with the maloca door on my other side, so I leaned over and asked him about the two missing. They left, he said, and I couldn’t have been more surprised. What do you mean, I asked, unable to comprehend that they would leave so close to the end. They went Iquitos, H said; K was not really digging it or something, so they left.
To say this left me momentarily stunned would be an understatement. The idea that I had somehow made it to day 9, that I was going to make it to the end and they didn’t, blew my mind. The idea that they left without me, that I could have gone with them if I’d only known, made me instantly sad, while knowing that I wouldn’t have gone with them was true at the very same time. Without talking to them myself I immediately decided that K must’ve gotten scared, like B and I had been, by the void, and decided not to face that possibility again. But of course it might have just been that he was tired of the food, how would I know. What I did know was that their leaving made me feel that there was a very strong likelihood that I was mentally stronger than I give myself credit for, even at 49, though such flattery was also very possibly unwarranted.
Regardless, I feel like a badass.
Since my mat was by the door last night it meant that I’d have the most traffic going by during the ceremony, as people went out to the loo or to get some air, but it also meant I had my best view yet of O and the altar. I can see her round brown face, bent over the bottles of medicine, her features lit in a halo of candlelight. We started with the normal things — intentions (whatever serves is fine, I said), pretend puffing of tobacco, prayers over the medicine, blowing of tobacco, calling the directions and then it was time to drink.
Last night there was a choice: stick with the same aya and chacruna mixture we’ve been having or try pure aya. It’s a myth, Jeff said, that you have to mix ayahuasca with another plant. You can try it alone tonight. I stayed with the mixture. I felt like I had yet to really do well with that; how was I going to do with straight ayahuasca? I wasn’t feeling brave enough to find out.
After we drank we waited in the dark, and then I was first on O’s side so she came and sang in front of me forever. I started out strong, upright with good posture, and about 15 minutes later I melted into the mat. Then she moved on — I assume that’s what she was waiting for, maybe? The medicine to kick in?
Nearly immediately my stomach began cramping again so I headed up the hill for some explosiveness and sat there as the yuck set in, like I had done three times before, berating myself for choosing to do this again. How had I forgotten the misery so quickly in the clear dawn of a new day?
Help me remember this time, I prayed, my forehead pressed again against the outhouse doorjamb. Help me remember. When I left the outhouse and picked my way back down the path (an obstacle course of knotted roots and vines), I realized that my forgetting was really just symbolic of what I was doing in the rest of my life — making the same choice again and again while hoping for a different result — and what all of humanity is doing in time.
We keep thinking the world is going to make us happy, that something or someone is going to do the trick, and when it doesn’t work again and again, we hide our disappointment from ourselves and chase after the next shiny thing. I keep thinking I can just keep switching paths, to the next shiny thing, without ever doing the thing I'm supposed to do. Or at least the thing I'm most scared to do.
When I found my way to the hut again, my timing was pretty much the same as before. The plants had kicked in and now the world had shifted and everything was covered in snow. Not really, but that’s what it looked like all around me. It was gorgeous — snow on the maloca and all the nearby buildings, the ground covered in white. When I sat down on a wooden bench to enjoy it, two dogs came over and sat by my legs (the dogs were real dogs), and then these huge towering plants grew up around me in psychedelic blue, pink, and green, like I was in my own cartoon. The buildings undulated in the ambient light (why was the sky never deeply dark?) while inside the hut O and E sang and sang and sang.
When I thought I might pass out outside I went back in to my mat to lay down and close my eyes, remembering this time for some reason (help me remember) that the first thing that always happens is that I dissolve. Meaning that when I lay down and close my eyes, I see some kind of a reflected image of myself, like I’m looking in a mirror, which then completely pixelates and dissolves into nothing. The first time this was scary because even though I was seeing my self dissolve, the feeling of it was that I was dissolving. And I did not want to dissolve. But it turns out that dissolving is never the end of the experience; it’s just the transition to something new.
So I laid down on my back, put two fingers to the ground, and for some reason said a little prayer to Mary, the mother of Jesus. I have no idea why I did this. I’ve never talked to Mary, never prayed to Mary, never given Mary much thought at all, to be honest. She was pretty much written out of the version of Christianity I grew up with; we didn’t talk about her other that to acknowledge that she was a “virgin” with a little nod and a wink every Christmas, whatever that all meant.
When I visited Ecuador a couple of years back I remember being struck by how much Mary was the main character — the most famous church in Quito (the inside nearly entirely gilded in gold) was closed when I attempted to visit because the picture of Mary it holds dear had blinked or cried or something that day that I arrived, which meant everyone needed to stay in constant prayer for the next nine weeks.
At a nearby 18th century convent I was departing an art show I found rather dreary when one of the staff motioned for me to follow him, which I did to a dimly lit room, partitioned by plexiglass. He tapped on the plexiglass wall in front of us, which was pitch black on the other side until it lit up and illuminated a nearly life-size looking resin Mary on her death bed, surrounded by a bunch of nearly life-size resin-ish men, clearly distraught at her passing. Having not been raised Catholic, I didn’t really get it. The colors of the figures felt garrish, the plastic faces comical at best, and yet my new friend was clearly choked up at the sight, wiping away some tears. He spoke to me for a couple of minutes passionately about the scene, but the only words I could make out were Maria and Mary. I really need to learn Spanish.
I’ve never tried to talk to Jesus in the way that I reached out to Mary last night on my mat. The story of Jesus I inherited made him somewhat unapproachable to me, but Mary — when I thought about it, Mary and I had something in common. What did I ask her for last night? Courage. I asked her for the courage to get through whatever came next. Please help me, I said.
It wasn’t long before my stomach clenched again — and again and again — so back up the hill I went. It felt like a gift, honestly, the escape into the cool night air from the oppressive heat, smoke, and noise of the maloca.
Eventually though, the madness and movement subsided, much less purging tonight, and I thought I’d made it through, which brought a sense of relief. But then, at the point where everything normally quiets down, E and O stood in the center of the room and sang a few rousing dance numbers — rattles and clapping and marching and singing super loud — it was craziness. Clearly it was a celebration of some kind, the end of our first ten days; I saw the dark shadows of others get up from their mats and dance along side. I did not get up. It was SO loud.
I thought J would be up next; I wanted to hear his lullabies one last time, to see if I could remember them when I went back home, but they gave us a “little treat” of music on our last night instead.
I couldn’t see who was doing what at all but I think Sylvia nd Natalia were there, and all four put on the most amazing concert. Sylvia seems to have the voice of an angel, the divine feminine; while she sang I had visions of this beautiful Earth woman who was all the kindness, compassion, and beauty of everything that is; I saw waterfalls and the forests and her long hair wrapped around me and held me. It felt like being held by Mother Earth herself.
After the first couple of songs, which were mesmerizing, the music - now sort of synthesized somehow and with a reverb - was incredibly hard to listen to, especially when they sang and played some of the more depressing music. It felt like all the muscles of my body were being torn out by invisible hands. But finally I remembered to stop resisting it and just surrender to it.
This whole time my body is once again on fire; I’m burning with the light of a thousand suns, I thought, an excellent phrase I recently read in a book. Great, I thought, I must be working through something. But what?
I never got a clear answer but I did see Tommy’s original wound - I saw him as a little boy in Niwot preschool where something happened that caused the cascade of insecurity that plagued him for so long. I always thought maybe the wound was my doing, my dropping him there in the first place, but that doesn’t feel right now. Something else happened and he was hurt. And he’s never quit protecting his soft center ever since.
Then I see that maybe this is a repeat of my own experience — I see myself in preschool sitting in my Sesame Street dress on the floor crying after we broke the piñata and, what — I didn’t get candy or I didn’t get the same amount of candy as everyone else? I’m not sure. My mom comes over and says “that can’t be any daughter of mine crying on the floor” and maybe I knew from that moment on that it wasn’t okay to feel sad. Idk. Maybe I’ve been protecting my soft center ever since.
That was a good lesson last night: stay with the hard and painful feelings to see what they have to show you. Don’t run. Watch.
I could see again how I’d used the Course in Miracles not to allow myself to feel what I feel, but to rationalize away feeling all the feelings I didn’t want to feel, that I thought were bad, unacceptable. I don’t have to feel it, because it’s not real, when instead the key is to allow it, but to watch it, notice it, and realize that the feeling, the reaction, is not rooted in anything with any true reality. That whatever the negative feeling is is tied to the idea of being a self separate from the Love that God is — which is impossible. My own repeated misinterpretation of the situation.
There are monkeys (monkeys!) in the trees outside my tambo now. Small ones, the size of young cats. Dark in color, grey maybe, and like 20 of them, maybe more, all swing through the trees like it’s a Disney movie out here. Where are they going? None of them stop to look at me looking at them. It’s funny to be the one inside a cage, looking out.
The songs went on and on last night — I thought maybe they would sing until sunrise — and once I thought I might be able to purge with the sheer amount of heat in my body but despite a valiant stretch of dry retching over my plastic bucket, but no luck. Eventually I must’ve fallen asleep because I woke up at dawn again — but this time not feeling that great. It’s like it didn’t burn itself quite out completely, whatever it was. So I’ll have look at that.
[transcription edit: so all the music at the end of the journey, when I thought it was four people singing in this jungle concert, was really just recorded music that Luis was playing. :) ]
Now it is day 9 and I am so ready to go home. I’d like to go today instead of waiting until tomorrow — get a hot shower at a hotel in Iquitos before flying home, rather than getting on planes so dirty straight from here. I have no clean clothes. I don’t want to leave alone, though, so hopefully Z or H will be ready to go too.
M said we’ll close the dieta at 9:30am, though I have no idea what time it is now. Then a shower and all done.
Remind me to revisit Gary’s book, Your Immortal Reality — I think I might get it now.
My period is coming — that might be part of how I’m feeling. Why I’m feeling so unsettled.
READY TO GO HOME.
Just closed the dieta at the maloca with H and Z. Olinda squeezed limes dipped in salt in out throats, then laid out textiles from her people, the Shipibo, for purchase. The textiles were different sizes, most of them held embroidered patterns on them that I couldn’t understand. M said that each of the designs, the patterns, represent the song of a plant, and that the curanderos can read the textile and sing the plant’s song. This was all new to me. So helpful.
I bought a few placemat sized embroidery pieces. I really wanted this giant black tapestry embroidered with a colorful tree of life, a frog and a jaguar, but what would I do with it when I got it home, hang it over my bed? How would I explain the significance if anyone asked? I resisted the urge and left it behind.
The good ladies from the kitchen brought the food.
The food! Brown tea and a plate of oatmeal with cinnamon and syrup piled high with mango, small oranges, and bananas — and a huge bowl of the most beautiful watermelon I’ve ever seen. I had no idea how much I missed sweet and salt until faced with that beautiful pile of food. I cried a little bit when she brought the watermelon. We couldn’t eat very much of it (Z, H, and me) but we feasted like kings and a queen.
After not talking much during the ten days, now Z, H and I talked about our experiences, talked about home, talked about whether we would ever do this again. We agreed that while we all want to return to Peru, we might be done with Aya. :) I wonder if I will remember that.
Then we took some pictures in the maloca with O and E and gave hugs goodbye. They tried to tell me something very important or something very poignant at the end that I couldn’t understand, something about December, it seemed? I hope I hear from them again. E took the cutest picture of me with their textiles. : ) I asked for a copy but am sure I will never see it. I did put my email address in his tiny black book; I worry that it wasn’t legible enough.
F just stopped by my hut, half naked and barefoot, of course, with his dirty towel after a shower. We spoke a bit and he asked if I had some paper. How did he survive this long without paper? I was so happy to gift him my pink notebook, drawing pad, and set of colored pencils. He has 30 days to go. I can’t even imagine. I’m not sure he has enough excess body fat to make it that long.
(Transcription edit: He ends up leaving after 20.)
It sounds like H and J were just as worried as I was every time we had a ceremony. I wish I would’ve known that, since all this time I thought I was the only one. H said he only tripped in his first ceremony — and J said only in the third, I think. What does that mean? I should have asked. I feel like I “tripped” every time, but maybe I don’t know what that means to them? Idk. I feel like I heard H sighing in every ceremony; was that not part of his trip?
4pm (I got my phone back from the safe this morning.)
B — who it turns out cut short his twenty days, to ten — Z, H and I walked to a small village on the Amazon river! So awesome. To finally see it. (In hindsight it was not quite the Amazon, but was one of the two primary headwaters called the Maranon River. Still. I made it. Sort of.). Wide and brown, with a few blue and white ferry boats dotting the water, but otherwise empty. It was mid-day and steamy; the locals were all waiting it out in the shade of their concrete block houses.
I am sweating my balls off.
On the way back we stopped at a shrine of the Virgin Mary and at a small waterfall. The shrine is a place where Mary has been credited with healing people, though I don’t know when that was. I felt fairly emotional about Mary after last night, but I didn’t get a moment to sit with that really, just a moment to say thank you. The shrine itself is a three-foot statue of Mary inside a locked box on post, under a giant stand of bamboo.
It was cool on the hill where the shrine sat, so we rested for a while on the platform at her base and talked about religion and spirituality and death. I shared my interpretation of dying, and B said it was really helpful, so that was nice. H talked vehemently about hating religion, given how the Catholic Church had protected its sexual predator priests for so long. So much anger — I should have asked if he grew up Catholic.
When we found our way back to camp we had lunch together in the maloca — salad with vinaigrette, plantano stew, rice, hard boiled eggs - another feast. And so glorious to be with others, instead of alone in my hut.
I think the key is that when I hear myself saying I know, or I already know, to remember that I clearly don’t already know, or it wouldn’t be happening /being said in my experience. I wouldn't be perceiving it again if I truly knew.
Was there anything else about last night I should remember?
Let it go. Don’t make an identity out of it.
I am not completely free of my stuff, but I feel like I received enough insight to be able to move forward more freely in life.
I recognized my shame around not having my shit together and how that kept the from asking for help.
I realized that I’ve been running from hard things my entire life so I didn’t have to face my fears.
To not face my fear of moving forward, of going in to the unknown, I lost my memory, by never actually being present.
I have been trying to be sick so that I might die and escape having to look at my fear.
I have been afraid to move from my career to my calling.
Now I have seen my fear around death and have learned to stay with the experience even when it’s hard. That’s how.
Ideally we sit in our own center, in true Presence, recognizing that the exp. Is all an illusion, and that all fear is self created in the mind — because in Truth we are spirit. We are immortal.
Other times we work it by surrendering to the exp as best we can.
What we resist, persists.
The shame, thankfully, seems to have disappeared once I could see it.
We’re having a huge thunderstorm and it’s making me have to pee so badly.
But I see one thing —
Just like in the mushroom dream
The higher self is always talking to us.
Day 10 and Back Home still to come :)