Day 37 – Epoophany (Ayahuasca III)

DISCLAIMER

I reference an old song at the end of this post and feel the need to include a slightly modified version of its opening disclaimer:

“The long term benefits of ayahuasca have been proven by scientists, whereas the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable than my own meandering experience.”

I don’t have facts or hard evidence but you’re just going to have to trust me on this one.


Do you believe in magic?

Before our retreat Ru (the shaman) talked to me about the ayahuasca (pronounced “are you Oscar?”) experience, how to prepare and what I should expect. He said one thing that really stuck: “By the end of the trip I want you to believe a little bit in magic.”

For me, magic is the opposite of science. At school I was terrible at science but its laws have always been my foundation: science can explain everything. I have never had faith in any god or religion. We’re born, we live, we die and that’s it. Science. I’ve never been contacted by a dead relative and have never seen a ghost.

I’d always been open to magical things happening but, with no evidence after 35 years on this earth, my mind was made up. If magic was the end game, Ru and ayahuasca had a lot of work to do on this non-believer.

After my second, unsuccessful ayahuasca trip it felt like there was no coming back – I had secretly had enough. I didn’t want to ingest another drop of that foul liquid. But while I had lost faith in the mission I was not going to be a deserter: I decided to see it through to the third ceremony, mainly out of respect for Ru and Hannah who had put on such an amazing show for us.

Andy felt the same way. As we had both got nothing from the second ceremony Ru decided to give us bigger first cups and sit us next to each other, reuniting the Brothers Grimm in the Giggle Corner where we’d had our first magical trips.

Andy got straight into the medicine this time, purged into his bucket and was off on another mystery tour, albeit more serious than the first one, without the giggles. I was happy for him but also felt envious. Time passed and the ceremony intensified for everyone but me; as my friends tripped out and their collective crescendo gathered momentum I just got more annoyed and wanted to go home.

After two hours I was offered another cup of ayahuasca and declined. Andy and Ru pushed me to drink more but my body said no and I listened. In my head I said “bollocks to this, I’m done.”

The ceremony drew to a close and I became mother hen as everyone else in the room was, well, twatted. I made tea, ate a banana, put some tunes on and prepared Ru’s birthday cake (happy birthday maestro 🙂 ). Now we were done with the ayahuasca we could all eat sugar again. Every cloud.

As the group debriefed on their hallucinations and epiphanies (of which there were many) I wasn’t angry at being the odd one out; I did my best to be cheerful and was really just glad that it was over. My magical journey through the animal kingdom on night one made it all worthwhile, but as for answering life’s big questions and believing in magic I just hadn’t got there.

I ate a slice of carrot cake and felt a sudden need to poo. I ran to the bathroom and squeezed out a golden egg which was followed by Angel Falls as my bowels were evacuated. Feeling queasy I closed my eyes and out of nowhere, three and a half hours after taking my medicine, the hallucinations came.

POO

Before long I was in a glass palace observing a statuesque, silver, bejewelled vision of ayahuasca. I had expected her to have the body of a woman and be covered in leaves and vines but here she was in front of me, stationary, reflecting light from her many silver and crystal panels.

As Ru read out a poem he had written about Hannah I started to feel the love. This was my epoophany and my patience had been rewarded. I left the bathroom and went back to the ceremonial area, where my visions became huge industrial machines with cogs whirring and wheels spinning. In my mind there was a fight going on between science and magic.

As the visions faded I looked around and took stock. The people drinking ayahuasca with me this week had been completely transformed. The weight of the world had been replaced with childlike enthusiasm for the adventures ahead. Everyone had their own personal and private experiences which I will not share here, but each had been on a positive journey, answering big questions and understanding themselves, their natures, what was important and what they now needed to do to manifest their dreams.

As people often find with ayahuasca, we had each had 10 years of counselling in the space of 5 days.

Ru read another beautiful poem and suddenly it all clicked. I went to the upstairs toilet and, like I had done on the first night after my hallucination, made a voice recording. I had been looking for evidence that magic exists and, sat there on the toilet, I worked it out: my second epoophany.

Ayahuasca is a medicine because – unlike drugs – it leaves people better than it found them, wanting and knowing how to be better still. The real beauty of ayahuasca is that it makes people realise they are ALREADY PERFECT. And that, in my opinion, is magical.


While this may not seem like magic in its purest form, this epoophany was just the beginning. The synapses in my brain were on overdrive and I was suddenly deciphering the mysteries of the universe, seeing links between everything. Bog not blog, poocasts not podcasts. Yes I was still very high but this was my ‘Matrix Moment’ and I was Neo rocking back on his knees, dodging bullets and stopping time. I tried that briefly and almost fell over backwards, realising I wasn’t yet worthy of “The One” status but still believing in what ayahuasca had shown me: magic is happening every minute of every day – you just have to notice it.

Ayahuasca gives you faith in the universe and a belief in all those weird little things: the strange coincidences, numbers that keep popping up, recognising a shape or a face in the clouds, bumping into the same cute guy or girl repeatedly in seemingly random locations. All these little quirks of fate happen for a reason. Call it your angels talking to you, call it god, magic, the universe or your higher conscience, but don’t ignore it.

We are trained to respond to environmental stimuli in a certain way but there is so much more processing going on in our subconscious than our conscious minds are aware of. Just like our relatives in the animal kingdom we should learn to trust our instincts.

In the days since we came back I have jokingly been saying “thank you” to ayahuasca every time something has worked out well, like walking onto the platform just as a train arrives. When things haven’t worked out so well I’ve said “that’s fine, it wasn’t part of ayahuasca’s plan.” In this way I feel ayahuasca has taught me acceptance. Furthermore, thanking ayahuasca is really no different to thanking god or the universe so in a strange, roundabout way I’ve also discovered faith. Not faith in a particular god or goddess: faith in the belief that the universe is unfolding as it should.

As I wrote that last line it took me back to Desiderata by Max Ehrmann and my mind suddenly rhymejumped (this should be a word if it’s not) to Baz Luhrmann. I felt compelled to change the music upstairs to Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen), which I genuinely don’t think I’d heard since it was popular in 1999. In exactly the same style as Desiderata it gives gentle advice on how to live life. The words are brilliant and all so poignant to me.

When I heard one particular line it hit me:

“Live in New York City once but leave before it makes you hard”

I laughed as I realised that listening to this song was the final part of her masterplan, at least for now. Shamazing.

Thanks ayahuasca 🙂



If enough people request it in the comments I will post the sound recording of my epoophany. I don’t know what ‘enough’ is – ayahuasca will tell me. For now, here’s the sunscreen song by Baz Luhrmann:


Next stop: London

What is The Gump Method

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Day 35 – Ayahuasca Part II

After the first magical ceremony we were on spiritual overdrive. The Ayahuasca goddess had let us into her beautiful, natural world and nothing could stop us.

We started the next day with a cleanse, jumping into a freshwater stream at the bottom of the hill, one by one dipping our heads three times underwater to clear the cobwebs from the night before. It was cold.

Two of the group went for a walk and foraged a selection of delicious fruits and berries. The line between foraging and scrumping is a little blurry when you’re still full of DMT and pass a pomegranate tree in someone’s front garden.

fruit.jpgFeeling my newfound bond with the animals I let a house fly land repeatedly on my arms and legs; rather than swatting it away I let it go about its business: “I’m a friend of the flies, you can land wherever you want pal.” A red shield bug got agitated as I coaxed him onto my hand: “Fear not little bug, I come in peace.” I was clearly still under the influence as I fell over on my way to the toilet.

As recommended we took a full day off the black stuff after our first ceremony to recover. I wouldn’t say any of us were quite compos mentis but a proper sleep and a rest did us all good.

Next on the agenda was a short ritual around Hannah’s cauldron – each of us wrote on a piece of paper something we wanted to get rid of, lit the paper on fire and cast it into the pot to burn away.

Impatience.jpgMy patience was soon tested as we looked for a bicycle pump. I delved among dust and cobwebs in the exposed basement, dislodging a couple of dead snails as I searched. After 20 minutes and three laps of the musty drawers I was about to abort mission when I checked a new drawer inside the house and a brand new pump appeared – thanks Auntie Ayahuasca.

In preparation for our second ceremony we took a plant bath. This involved Ru and Hannah picking a selection of healing and medicinal plants from around the garden – lavender, rosemary, hibiscus and other flowers – before leaving them to soak in water for a few hours.

Plant bath.jpgThis felt like the perfect opportunity for Tarzan to get his speedos on. I was instructed to rub the brown, plant-infused concoction into every crack and orifice. It was cold.

speedo-plant-bath.jpgAfter all this bonding with nature we expected an even better second trip. In contrast to the nervous excitement of the first ceremony there was a reverential atmosphere as we went through the rituals, banishing dark spirits as the medicine flowed.

I asked Ayahuasca for a better understanding of the universe and my own place within it. Not much then. I sat in a new spot, buckled up and got ready for the ride.

Similarly to round one the first two drinks had no effect and I purged after my third cup. I sat waiting for the magic and was again greeted with a whole lot of nothing. I thought back to the cauldron and tried to relax…then the ceremony drew to a close, the lights came on and it was over.

Was I being impatient? Had I been greedy in my request? Maybe I was being punished for eating a couple of biscuits earlier that day, or maybe I simply hadn’t drunk enough.

It was clearly working on others: Hasina was occupied by spirits as she incanted a tribal chant and Justin was in pleasuretown, giggling and whooping as if he was being tickled aggressively with a feather duster.

As Andy had also felt very little we reassessed the situation and let doubt creep in. Maybe the talk of spirits and nature was just a way to make sense of all the discomfort and vomiting. Maybe we were putting lipstick on a DMT pig.

As one of the group mistakenly trusted a fart and followed through for the second time that night we laughed at how ridiculous it all felt: when you subtract the hallucinations all you are left with is nausea and a few buckets of human waste.

Ru told us there would be ups and downs and that each person would find their own meaning from the experience, even long after the retreat was over; perhaps we needed to be brought down to earth and this was all part of the journey.

I decided to keep the faith but after glimpsing something otherworldly in the first ceremony this felt like a major speedbump; either the magic was wearing off or this was another necessary stage in Ayahuasca’s masterplan…


Next stop: Ayahuasca Part III 

What is The Gump Method

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Day 33 – Ayahuasca Part I

HEALTH WARNING: THIS IS A BIT LONGER THAN MY USUAL POSTS

ALSO: LOTS OF WORDS AND NOT MANY PHOTOS FOR LEGAL REASONS 🙂


Ayahuasca is a psychoactive drink brewed from a combination of 12 sacred master plants growing in the Amazonian jungle. For centuries, the brew has been used as a traditional spiritual medicine by the indigenous peoples of the Amazon basin; the tourist trade for ayahuasca has only boomed in the last few decades.

Ayahuasca is a medicine rather than a drug, but as the drink contains concentrated amounts of the hallucinogen DMT it is illegal in most countries except Peru, where the government states that the “wisdom” plant “constitutes the gateway to the spiritual world and its secrets,” recognising ayahuasca’s status as “one of the basic pillars of the identity of the Amazon peoples.”

I travelled to Perpignan on the Southern tip of France for my ayahuasca retreat with 5 other curious travellers, only one of whom had previous experience of the medicine. Three ceremonies were planned over five days by our shaman Ru and his girlfriend Hannah, an energy healer. I had met them both a few months earlier at the Secret Garden Party festival and we bonded instantly. This is me hitting on Hannah (it’s ok, Ru took the photo).

Pomme d'amour

Half hippie half North London boy from the flats, a musician and ex-boxing trainer, Ru did his shaman apprenticeship over 6 months in the Amazon jungle. He is an incredibly spiritual but also totally normal and funny guy who I knew would be the perfect guide for my first ayahuasca journey.

In preparation for a ceremony the body needs to be cleansed. The term ‘Stoptober’ has been coined for giving up cigarettes in October but we stopped almost everything: with alcohol, meat, dairy, sugar, salt and processed foods off limits it was also Droptober due to the weight loss. We were even banned from sex, both with others and with ourselves (Floptober).

The reason for this cleanse is not only to show respect for the ‘divine goddess’ and the plants she represents but also to prepare the body for the ‘purge’ (vomiting) which occurs between 20 minutes and a few hours after drinking the thick, brown medicine.

ayahuasca brew

Each person comes to an ayahuasca ceremony with their own objective which is stated, in the mind, before their first drink. I had no particular yearning for a deeper understanding of anything, feeling I had already been on a spiritual journey in recent months, but Ru said something in the preparatory phase that helped bring me clarity:

“Plants don’t have spirits but all spirits have plants:”

After my walk in the Fontainebleau forest and a beautiful experience earlier in the day watching a hummingbird hawk-moth drain nectar from the flowers in the garden I felt a strong desire to connect with nature and asked ayahuasca to help me.

As night fell and the ceremony began one of the group was overwhelmed by emotion and started sobbing. We each took turns to drink our first cup with the shaman and return to our places. I felt reassured that my place was next to Andy, my best friend for the last 25 years, who would be with me on the journey.

I closed my eyes and waited. Nothing. After 15 minutes another group member started purging aggressively into his bucket. Nothing. Before long I realised Andy was on a magical mystery tour, giggling, mumbling and singing to himself as I sat there in complete darkness feeling nothing. Another hour passed and I took a second cup, still nothing. A few puffs of purple smoke were the only vision I had as I sat there, disappointed and frustrated that it hadn’t worked on me.

Two hours in there was a cacophony: multiple people vomiting loudly into their buckets, Andy having a whale of a time next to me bouncing around in the clouds and me sat there thinking “well this is shit.”

I felt like Oliver Twist as I knelt in front of the shaman and asked him for my third cup. Feeling a bit queasy by that stage I took my bucket with me, knowing that one more swig of the smoky, bitter liquid could send me over the edge, and it did. I puked violently into my bucket 5 or 6 times, still only thinking about what a shitty time I was having, and then sat back in my spot, swilled my mouth with water and blew my nose.

It is common for the visions to start after a purge, and as Ru broke out into one of his many beautiful and magical shamanic songs it started POW. With my eyes closed I was suddenly in a greenhouse with light streaming in from all angles. Space and noise were distorted as Ru sang, with tweeting birds and chirping crickets, frogs and insects providing the backing music. Next I saw kaleidoscopes of neon animal faces before my sick bucket became a menagerie with gorillas and monkeys and birds and plants growing everywhere. I suddenly realised how excited I was to write about this when a hippopotamus looked up at me lazily and said “stop thinking about your blog and focus on the animals.”

As I watched a pink flamingo preening himself I briefly panicked and thought “surely this isn’t my spirit animal?” but the flamingo flew away and was replaced by every animal I had ever seen. I went deep into the rainforest where every noise echoed through the jungle. I joined in and made a few noises of my own: drips and drops of water and then out of nowhere a “KAW” thinking I was a bird, which drew giggles from the other participants.

I found myself in the taxidermy shop on Essex Road in London where I bonded with the big stuffed giraffe that has been in there for years. I felt his pride and frustration as I connected with him.

As my body went into convulsions I felt the spirit of ayahuasca was inside me, giving me energy. When Ru came over to check I was ok he spoke to me as a lion. I giggled as he turned into a hummingbird hawk-moth, then a baboon, and as he played the xylophone beautifully in my visions he was a fly, beating down left-right-left-right on the instrument with his big, bulbous eyes.

Then I was a frog being rescued from the pool in our Hamptons house, before finding myself in a garden populated by all the family dogs from over the years who are no longer with us: Billy, Louis, Rufus, Amber and Baxter; all smiling, wagging their tails and turning over to be tickled before going into their own doggy dreams.

Very briefly I was Indiana Jones, Andy was the BFG, Jackie (not even present) was a mermaid and Hasina was a tree, but mostly it was just me and the animals. Whenever we got carried away Ru said “tranquilo” to calm us down. While there is no dialogue allowed with anyone other than the shaman, Andy, Hannah and I were clearly bouncing off each other’s trips as the laughter at times became uncontrollable. Each of us was given a special time with the shaman called ‘Limpieza’ where we were cleansed and asked what we needed help with. In the height of my high I didn’t really know what I wanted but asked for help in finding my spirit animal. Ru said “maybe you won’t choose one, but all of the animals” as he presented me with a turquoise pendant necklace.

I had been waiting for him all night and then he came – the white tiger – but instead of Pieter the cuddly toy I saw a white version of Tony the Tiger (the Frosties mascot) which started a wonderful period of white tiger faces peeking out at me from behind leaves and branches, smiling and laughing with me. In my head I was saying “come and find me, come and get me” but it was at that point that I realised I didn’t love one animal, I loved all the animals, even the ugly ones as I smiled at a rat. During this epiphany Ru came over, hugged me and, as he does for all participants, gave me my new nickname: Tarzan. It was too perfect and I burst into joyous fits of laughter.

Ru called the ceremony to a close but the journey continued as we were still full of ayahuasca. Gurglings, rumblings and painful wind in the stomach were uncomfortable and I needed food. I ate an apple followed by an unpeeled kiwi. We were finally allowed to talk to each other and it was hilarious. Mine was the most lighthearted and fluffy journey but all of us had incredible experiences with very different outcomes.

Andy took a trip on the love train. Starting with the members of his own family his vision took him around the room and outside the house where he fired love thunderbolts from his wrists like Spider-Man.

Hasina spoke to the goddess in their own new language and was told to draw a series of symbols which she has since been trying to decipher.

symbols.jpg

Farid purged the pain and suffering of all humanity, feeling an overwhelming urge to save the planet.

It took Justin the whole ceremony, and 5 cups of ayahuasca, to let her in; only after everyone else had left the room did he finally cast his inhibitions aside, purge and see visions of his own, immediately taking on the persona of a cat before being called upstairs by the real life house cat Fauve who was sat, purring, on his bed.

What do these different journeys say about us as people? Only Ayahuasca knows, but it is clear from our first ceremony that ultimately she gives each person what they want and need, not necessarily in that order.

After hearing various horror stories my first experience of the medicine was magical, beautiful and beyond my wildest imagination. How the next two journeys unfold, and whether I touch on anything deeper and darker in my inner psyche, is yet to be seen.


Next stop: Ayahuasca Part II

What is The Gump Method

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