Incredibly and miraculously, ayahuasca induced within me profound insights and epiphanies. It broke down emotional walls that I had confined myself within for years.
The insights came to me through an inherent ‘knowing’ and a kind of thought-sound rather than a deep and booming god-voice.
I believe the insights and teachings I received originate from what I might call my higher-self/intuition or from ‘god’, and are somehow released into my awareness by the medicine. So as you read this, when I refer to ‘it’, I mean that higher power that contains the answers to my life’s questions. The first thing ‘it’ ‘told’ me was that it couldn’t show me the meaning of life, because there’s no such thing. But it offered to show me the nature of life, and that the nature of life is this: our eyes open and we know nothing. And so the first thing we are is students. We learn by the example of others around us. As we live and grow, we teach by example of how we are living and growing. And so the second thing we are is teachers. We are students of life and teachers of life.
Presented with this truth, I immediately and instinctively questioned god/my higher self/the spirit of the plant as to how I can be the best teacher I can be. It is my hope that this presentation of my experience will demonstrate and embody the answers I received to this very question.
When deciding to begin writing this piece about my second journey with plant medicine (I had journeyed with the African root bark iboga previously), I struggled with how to present this incredibly emotional, physical and psychological experience. Do I describe the ceremony straight up as it was, or do I also include the challenges I’ve experienced in being a longtime sober member of a twelve-step recovery fellowship and program?
Both of my journeys with plant medicine so far have had a personal theme/internal message of trusting myself (intuition) and letting go of not only my own but other people’s judgment and shame around what I choose as right for me.
What I do know now is that making the decision to do something that calls to me—despite the stigma and projected fears I’ve received from others—is a substantial part of the journey itself.
Choosing to partake in something that is largely condemned by touters of strict abstinence-based recovery was a scary decision to make. I wasn’t overly fearful about the experience itself as it had called to me for years as something I truly believed would help me. I had no interest in getting high—been there, done that. The fear I had was (is) around the judgment I’d receive by my ‘loving’ community that would largely consider me no longer sober should I do it. And man, did I ever receive judgment—the specifics of which I’ll leave for another post.
Here are some simple facts: twelve step programs/fellowships are 84-85 years old. Evidence of sacred plant medicine usage for accelerated spiritual growth dates to at least 1000 A.D. Nobody could say which method is ‘right’ and which is ‘wrong.’ There’s no such absolute reality in anything in life.
For me, both methods work, and I—more than ever—consider myself sober and abstinent—even after having journeyed with psychedelic/psychotropic medicine. As a matter of fact, the twelve steps that got me sober and maintained my sobriety for almost 18 years didn’t help much with the PTSD that I had (and was unaware of) that had been informing my emotional life. Iboga and ayahuasca however, have both taken me to my past (coming out/homophobia, violence, depression) and healed it. These medicines have also engendered a level of self-acceptance and assurance I’ve never before been able to muster.
I suppose to answer my original question then, I’m going to continue to share my entire journey from beginning to present.
So what was the actual ayahuasca journey ceremony like?
It blew my fucking mind! Maybe quite literally—and definitely in the best way possible!
I’m lucky to have been guided by my dear friend Ivano to the Osa Peninsula of Costa Rica where a wonderful spirit named Jim and his team of facilitators hold a safe and beautiful space for these sacred ceremonies.
Another good friend, Andrew, who had also already experienced ayahuasca, accompanied us. He had previously explained to me that music was a big component in ayahuasca ceremonies. This became clear to me early on in my journey, as right after the first person vomited, Jim and his brilliant musician/facilitators started up.
Oh ya, if you haven’t already heard, purging is also a prominent aspect of plant medicine experience. Out of 24 of us, about 18 were vomiting—some purging from both ends (in the bathrooms adjacent to the ceremony space.) I almost felt cheated out of the ‘full’ experience, as I didn’t puke. I had a slightly upset stomach for about five minutes after each small cup of the medicine I drank. I did profusely yawn though. Not because I was tired or bored, but my body’s natural way of purging emotions after crying manifested in perpetual, guttural yawning. It was surprising to me too!
The music ranged from Jim’s assistants Sassy and Trisha’s angelic acapella melodies and lyrics about loving us and bringing us comfort, to Dave’s (resident musician/facilitator) guitar strumming and clever, wise and humorous lyrics about not forgetting that monkeys are our teachers—swinging from the trees, wild and free—and to not forget that we are monkeys too. The overall vibe was a bit hippie-ish, and genuinely uplifting and spiritual. There was a definite understanding that these people weren’t doing what they did to make money, but rather to bring us as much comfort on our individual journeys as possible.
If you were comfortable with it, when you finished vomiting into your provided bowl, one of the facilitators would swap it with a clean bowl and offer you tissue. They would take the soiled bowls aside and rinse them out.
After drinking the first cup of medicine (which tastes kind of like a bitter black licorice) we waited about 40 minutes in silent meditation and darkness for the medicine to begin working. For me, I began to feel it in just over an hour. And though I had done iboga before, I had been told that ayahuasca was different in the way it works in and through you. That said, it didn’t take long to recognize how the medicine worked for me.
The very first thing I noticed, long before any visuals, was that I found myself with my head in my hands and my own voice in my head saying, ‘Michael, you’re too hard on yourself.’
I next remember thinking about a faltering friendship in my life and how it seemed sad to think about it. But I didn’t immediately feel sad. And yet, without feeling anything, I noticed tears dripping onto my legs as I was hunched, sitting in my half-lawn-chair perch.
Next, I felt a kind of release in my mind and my attention suddenly journeyed to the living room of the house I lived in between the ages of four to eight. I didn’t stay there long, but for the rest of the ceremony, I kind of identified as my child-self—perhaps between eight and twelve years old. As I write this, it kind of makes sense that I would experience this journey through the perception of a child, for as I’ve come to understand the way this medicine works, is that it temporarily removes the ego and our cultural conditioning and allows us to interpret our lives without fear or projected habit energies or beliefs from others.
So much happened, and so many insights came throughout the journey that it’s hard to place them chronologically here, but alas, I shall do my best.
As I move along through the description of my experience, I’ll be explaining how I ‘heard’ voices and insights. And as I said earlier, I don’t mean I heard the voice of god—or even my own voice. Rather it was kind of like a thought or a ‘knowing’ of the words of wisdom that were coming directly from what I believe is my higher-self or my intuition.
That said, the next thing I ‘heard’ was the aforementioned description of the nature of life—that we are students and teachers. I picked up on themes throughout the journey that fine-tuned the meaning of this idea. One of Jim’s assistants, Sassy, was singing about and, quite literally, doing everything in her immediate power to make us feel comforted. At one point when I had sort of collapsed in a release of stored emotions from hurtful moments in my life, Sassy reached over with tissue for me. A small gesture, but because I had no idea that she had even recognized the breakdown I was having, it was surprisingly moving and a reminder/demonstration of what a nice person is.
When I thought about my challenges with social media, relationships and just about everything in my life, the ‘voice’ reminded me that the solution to any challenge when dealing with other humans is to transform it into an act of service.
These thoughts about comforting and service culminated in a type of ‘knowing’ that to be the best teacher I can be is not about teaching anything specific. It’s not how I teach yoga, or how I teach the twelve steps/spirituality to the people I sponsor. It’s not about ‘trying’ to inspire by what I post online. How I can be the best teacher I can be is by simply living my life while first making myself reasonably comfortable, and then devoting my time and energies to bringing comfort to others. This will provide the best example by which people can learn.
The insights and epiphanies kept coming as if I had a direct line to the source of all answers. Each time I had one I kept thinking to myself, ‘this is fucking incredible. I can’t wait to share this.’ Then my old propensity for people-pleasing would kick in, and I would think, ‘but how do I share this and what are people going to think? How will they react?’ These thoughts would immediately be followed by a firm reminder that this is the exact thinking that it’s time for me to abandon, and that I don’t have to ‘present’ my experience in anyway other than living it and writing about it—as it was—if I’m so inclined.
Feeling almost bombarded by so many insights, I ‘asked’ how I’m supposed to remember everything I was learning. There was an immediate reassurance that I don’t have to try to remember them; that these insights will simply arrive in my life again when I need them. I could liken this idea to going through the twelve steps our initial time, and then learning how to live the program as we meet whatever life brings us. This has proven to be true, as I returned home and faced some harsh criticism for having participated in this journey—I intuitively knew how to be myself and not compromise my integrity.
My awareness was brought to the areas of my life where people did me wrong and instead of me talking about it and how wrong it was, the ayahuasca state allowed me to feel what I needed to feel. I felt betrayed, deeply hurt, and very sad. And when these feelings came up, I would let them out. I must have pounded the floor and cried a thousand times from the pit of my stomach. I felt no embarrassment while experiencing this, as I sensed around me that everyone in the ceremony was entrenched in their own respective healing journey. No judgment.
My mentor has always suggested that I am a seeker. I would lazily agree and give it little thought because, in a way, although I have always sought spiritual growth via numerous paths, I also knew I was quite trendy with what I was doing. I kind of looked at it like yes, I’m studying Kabbalah (or Wicca, A Course in Miracles etc) and yes I’m spiritual, and I’m cool because of it. When this idea came up during the ceremony, I was shown clearly that—yes I liked the attention for whatever I was doing, but—first, and foremost, I have always been seeking the Truth. So if it’s cool to be a spiritual warrior, then great, because that’s who I am.
I felt admiration and gratitude for the people that are/were accepting and supportive of me now and as I was growing up. Like my earlier journey with iboga, my dear friend Jenn’s mother (and the rest of her family this time) came into my awareness, which reminded me of how accepting they were with me since I was 14 years old and coming out of the closet during an extremely homophobic time.
I was able to feel the hurt and sense of betrayal (that I didn’t even know I carried with me) from when my friend Glen killed himself six years ago.
I saw Madonna again, and this time my experience was less about admiring her and more about seeing her as an equal. I kept saying in my mind, ‘I see you Madonna.’ And what I intuitively knew I meant by this is that I recognize that she’s a seeker as well, and sharing that message from her platform. This is why I connect with her—we are on a similar mission that started with a desire for fame that later revealed itself to be a desire to get closer to who we really are/the truth.
I saw my friend Peter—who is very much like me in almost all ways—and I recognized our connection as being part of a tribe of souls who are seeking and finding our way.
It told me that god is showing himself/herself more than ever now but not in the way we expect by mystical miracles, and rather by how many wars are being fought in his name.
The second night, I felt the presence of—and embraced by—my late grandmother. I felt held and comforted as I journeyed and processed on the second night—which was less emotionally intense than the first, perhaps because of this sensation. I’ve also been told that ayahuasca holds the energy of a grandmother and is often referred to as such.
At one point, after returning to my spot from having a third cup of medicine, I stood and swayed and enjoyed the music as I stared into the fire burning just outside of our circle. At this time, my vision was quite alive with patterns and visuals which, for me, didn’t seem necessary to the emotional internal work I was doing. I’ve heard though, that visuals are often a big component to the plant medicine experience, and that people claim to see visions that can alter their perceptions of their lives for the better.
While I was standing and swaying, and quite hypnotized by the fire, I ‘heard’ a voice very clearly tell me that I need to heal my relationship with a certain family member. I knew instinctively this meant that I need to express and relay to them that I love them.
At another time shortly thereafter, I was inspired to tell my friend Ivano what he meant to me as a good friend. He was having some tobacco near the fire, so I got up to hug him. The visuals were intense, the setting was dark, and I lost my footing and fell on Sassy, the facilitator. It was loud and caused a bit of a disturbance within the circle. After Sassy used my stumble as another opportunity to help me and comfort me, she got me standing, and I was able to give my hug to Ivano and let him know he was the epitome of a good friend.
The ceremony lasted about five or six hours each night, and I woke up the next morning after each feeling quite clear and comfortable. And as I’ve said, the insights and awakenings have stayed with me and appeared when I’ve needed them.
The complete experience I would describe as a massive spiritual shortcut—and it’s a shortcut that I’m willing to take. I have no need to be a martyr if I’ve found something that brings more serenity into my life. I say bring it on!
In a nutshell, would I do it again? Yes, most definitely. But not because I want to get high. The ‘high’ is not even secondary in the experience—it’s merely the means by which we enter the state that provides the insights that bring us to personal purging and healing. I approach plant medicine with a sincere desire to heal. I believe I’m also lucky that I’m open-minded and brave enough to listen to my intuition and take this chance. I would do it again for the same reason I continue to attend my twelve step meetings: to clear up the wreckage of my past and purge it, and to continue moving forward on the path of healing, discovery and self-development.
I don’t like to recommend anything. I believe that these plant medicines are intuitive and—when used for the purpose of healing and spiritual growth—they will give the participant exactly what they need. So, as I’ve explained, I participated in this ceremony and was truly dedicated to self-improvement and spiritual growth. With this approach, my experience was exceptionally beneficial. This is where I believe I benefited from my long-term sobriety before making my decision. And it was a decision I made for myself out of my own intuition—my intuition that is becoming sharper because of my experiences with iboga, ayahuasca and my commitment to a (twelve-step) spiritual means of recovery and growth.
So I won’t recommend this—or anything else for that matter—I’ll simply continue to teach by my experience and you can decide for yourself.