Ayahuasca and the Art of Tripping Mindfully
Hello Helios, by James R. Eads and The Glitch
I’m lying on the day bed on the covered porch, writing. We drink at 7pm. I feel the sun on my face, but hear the rain, so I look up to see a rainbow coming to life across the face of Apu Pitsuray, its light-bearing arc painting prisms in the sun showers. Tracy tells me that sunshowers are called huarmi lluvia (women’s rain) in Quechua. The rain stops and the garden fills with hummingbirds. The fear wanes a bit.
We are gathered on the porch in a somber, contemplative silence before the ceremony. Apprehension turns in my stomach. I breathe through it. I tell my companions how grateful I am for their awesomeness. Not one of us is insensitive or abrasive or disconnected from the group dynamic in any way. We draw runes. I pull Dagaz. Breakthrough. Tracy smiles, “Let’s get drunk.”
Christopher and I are the last into the maloca. Tracy smudges us with sage and passes around small cups of the dark, sharp-tasting liquid. I swallow and think, “That’s that.” No going back now. Tracy turns out the lights and David leads a group meditation. His lilting English accent is grounding to me—the sound of home.
In the silence following the meditation, I wait, eyes closed in the dark, trying to keep my breathing deep and even. I wait some more. I still feel nothing. It must’ve been nearly forty minutes by the time I get “the possibility tingles”—these are the little sparkling whirlwinds of excitement I used to feel in my stomach as a child, usually because of some taste of unprecedented freedom—having been left home alone, for instance, and revelling in the moment of realisation that I could do whatever I wanted, that I was in charge. I call them the possibility tingles because they are a response to the awareness that there is a world of possibilities unfolding all around me and that I am the one who gets to select from them. Sadly, I had nearly forgotten these childhood tummy tingles until fairly recently. I started feeling them again when I got re-involved with drama at the end of 2014, and the thrill of deciding who to be brought them back, the freedom of building an entire person, a character—an avatar—from scratch.
The ayahuasca took effect so gradually that at first I couldn’t tell whether these possibility tingles were coming from my excitement to feel the vine, or from actually feeling the effect of the vine. Were they just particularly sparkly because of my heightened anticipation? I wasn’t sure. But then the sparkles intensified and spread upwards out of my belly and into my chest, coursing down my arms and through my lungs until I was one big friendly sparkle monster breathing an atmosphere of sparkles. Full-body possibility tingles. I was pure potential. I grinned in the dark. Giddiness growing. I was turning into pure Love. Every time David’s stomach growled, the sound rippled through my body of sparkles like concentric rings rippling across the surface of a body of water. I was a three-dimensional pond whose molecules were light.
Then, the world exploded. It was like an instantaneous colourbomb that detonated everything within and without me into pulsing fractals of stop motion rainbow bubbles, so small and so detailed they seemed like pixels, but round instead of square. I became aware of my heart pounding fast and hard—what felt like too hard—and started to panic. I remember my inner voice repeating, “Oh God, oh God, oh God—“ and then I made the decision to overrule it. “Stop,” I commanded. “Just surrender.” And the moment I did, the palpitations were over. The particles of the colourbomb settled into the shape of the maloca and the other people sitting around me. The world was actually made of this multicoloured, round, cellular stonework—it always had been and I’d only lost the pattern for a moment. It was like realising that everything is always made of colourbomb, and I’ve only just remembered how to see it, which takes a bit of practice. Understandably.
For awhile, I just practised seeing both the world and the colourbomb, worked on letting them settle into each other and integrate fully. Everything was breathing—my skin, the timbers of the roof, the walls, the floor. When I turned my head or stretched my legs, it felt like moving through syrup, like parting seas of colourbomb honey. Even empty space was full of colourful, breathing life.
And somewhere inside of myself, I became aware of the naysayers—voices of fears, little demons speaking unwelcome words, calling names which make little sense—and I made the decision not to focus on them. I shrunk them like the poor unfortunate souls in Ursula’s grotto, relegated them to the basement, and realized that I am the big, bad octopus goddess who's actually in charge of it all (all being the chorus of voices and spirits and archetypes that make up my reality).
All of what little ambient light was in the room began to coalesce around a white shape, which I realised in a moment was Christopher. I could feel the pain of everything he’d been through welling up inside of me
and it was made of love
and it was too much to contain
and the pressure of it turned the love into warm, flowing liquid
rising like a tide in my heart and up through my throat
into my face and out of my eyes
and then I’m tripping out on tears, on these life-bearing rivers of love coursing over my cheeks. What are they?
"Tears are a river that take you somewhere. Weeping creates a river around the boat that carries your soul-life." —Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Women Who Run With the Wolves
And even though they hurt, the tears feel so good. I am able to enjoy them. It all feels so eerily, unequivocally familiar and I’m realising, “Wow, I live this way. Tripping out on everything all the time.” Is that good? Bad and good seem comically subjective, because they are. And I do, I live this way, where every feeling is intensified ten or twentyfold and every breath feels like magic and every sound contains a tiny universe. I live this way and now it is sanctioned, now it’s allowed to revel in it just because we’ve created a sacred space and drunk this tea. How very strange. But maybe we’re all just tripping our way through life every day and we just forget. This makes one remember, makes one aware that we’ve stopped being good at it. This medicine gives you no choice but to be good at it again, makes conscious the choice between tripping out on all the bad things and focussing on the good ones. Why would we do it any other way? It’s so easy to forget to make sense every day.
I think one of the most valuable things about this experience is the reverence you approach it with, the willingness to be fully present in the moment. If we approached life with the same breathless anticipation and willingness to surrender? That same open-minded perspective of doing something new, of not really knowing what to expect, but surrendering to it all the same because we have no choice? If we approached life the same way, everything would be this magic. It would have no choice.
I make a decision to tell people my fears. To speak my secrets. Aya wants me to know that I shouldn’t hide the things I’m tripping out on. She tells me that if I’m tripping out I should be sharing. That is your purpose, she tells me. Share, share, share. Trip out and share. The secret, I decide, is total transparency. Hide nothing. You are not here (alive) to hide. Nothing is a big deal. Also, everything is. But the fact that everything's a big deal? Listen up! Even that's not a big deal.
It seems to take ideas a long time to manifest into actions. I know I’ve had to pee for the longest time before I get around to telling Tracy that I want to get up and go to the bathroom. I finally do, and she comes to help me up and out of the maloca. I’m immediately distracted by the magnificence of the night sky. The clouds are forming a pattern like the sort of bubbles sugar would make if you mixed it with water and baked it over a flame. Little explosions of stardust are seeping around the seams of every bubble.
In the bathroom, I think, “Wow! Things are so much more amazing when you can see them!” I’m glad to be liberated from the dark. Staring into the outer space of the marble on my bathroom wall, I realise that at this point, I can mostly turn the visuals on and off at will. It’s only the peripheral pinwheels that won’t go away at my command. I pee and make my way back to the porch, where the sky recaptures me completely. This night sky is the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen. It’s topsy turvy between the mountains, and swaying in the cloudscapes, and punctuated by patches of Milky Way in between clouds. I pick the moon out from under the cloud cover and as I do, the clouds very slowly begin to recede. The moon gets brighter, and brighter, and brighter, as if it’s illuminating my thoughts. Did I make this happen? Or did I notice it just in time? Somehow the answer is both.
There’s a breach in the clouds, and I make the decision to decide what it’s shaped like. A dragon? Sure, but something else. Then I see her: a Peruvian angel in flight, braids trailing behind her, a diamond perched atop her head like a headdress, with two smiling stars for eyes. I feel her love, and somewhere inside of it, I also feel the relativity of time. An instant feels like a light year feels like a memory, feels like a premonition, a daydream, reality. It’s like my mind’s been let off its leash. Thank fucking God.
How does it feel so familiar? I did take a lot of hallucinogens as a teenager. Maybe I’m approaching this now from the perfect place—with years of experience and yet with absolute beginner’s mind. Mind. Mind is all over the place, a thousand directions and I’m trying to reign them all in, to count them, but it is futile. Somewhere in the shifting maelstrom of ideas, there’s a voice crying, “Wait, wait, wait!" And everything stops. "What do I do about B?” This voice is pleading, it’s desperate for the truth, and it’s also a little indignant because it knows that it’s the reason I came here at all, and goddammit, it wants its answers. A pregnant pause. Then Aya speaks.
“Oh honey.” Her voice is full of the deepest compassion. Finality. And tough love. “Oh honey,” she says. “There is absolutely nothing you can do about B. Except to love him.” And out flow the tears. “Just love him,” she says. “There, there. That is all you can do.” Each teardrop is a tiny universe of understanding. Beautiful knowing that I will forget but now—oh now—I understand. And love is all there is. It is everything and everywhere. Love breathes lightly in the branches of his name and moves in the roots of his body pressed into my own and unfolds in the blooms of his mind and mine, hand in hand across time and space. And he is a great growing, glowing tree of love on the vibrant green meadow of myself and I will never question that again. Even if I will forget that it’s all I can do, I will never question its reality again. If only one thing is real about him, about the way he lives in my heart, this is it: Love. I love him.
But something in the little liquid universes rolling down my cheeks needs attention. What is it? Aya turns me to ask with compassion instead of impatience, instead of frustration. What is it, my love? I want recognition, says the tear. I want credit. I want to know how I have changed him, how I’ve affected him. And that is understandable. It’s also the last thing I should allow to take up my plate. So I push it off.
The love is real, but does it make me crazy? Am I crazy for feeling it? I am 95% sure I’m sane, and that's a pretty high percentage for something as subjective as sanity. I think of Cargo telling me, almost chidingly but also lovingly, "You're just so together." And rolling her eyes with a smile as if my togetherness is kind of exhausting. I suppose it is. Why am I so together? What actually is it that makes me so damn sane?
I decide not to worry about it. Worry is the bad guy, octopus goddess self thinks. She’s totally right. The question is how to recognise worry in its infancy and shrink it with the other poor unfortunate souls. This, this, this! 95% sane me really wants to hold onto this question and answer it before it slips away into the thunderstorm of other thoughts. She seems to think that it’s the key to life, the universe, and everything: how to see worry as it begins and nip it in the bud. Like a martial artist, you use its own strength against it. You let it take itself down. But how? The question will come back, I realise, if I let it go into the maelstrom, and when it comes back, it might have an answer with it. So I let it go.
I can’t even describe this feeling, it’s like everything you already know just falls into place and makes sense. Bottom line? You are here to have fun. Enjoy. Remember that. My stomach is talkative. I haven’t eaten in about nine hours and despite its gravity, the hunger seems funny to me.
“I am RAVISHING.” —John Kolvenbach, Love Song
The question of life, the universe, and everything waltzes back in from the maelstrom and with it? An answer! Or at least, a piece of one. I decide that releasing worry will be a lifelong struggle, so I will have to find techniques that work and learn how to throw out the ones that don’t. Just try ‘em all. (Note to self: Eating totally doesn’t work, FYI.) WOW, EVERYTHING SERIOUS IS REALLY FUNNY! And when I realise that, or when that realisation bursts through, I realise this: What’s really, really, REALLY, REALLY important to me is getting paid to do what I love—and that is make art. Write. Act. “Every day,” Aya says. “You must do it every day.”
“But what qualifies?” I ask. “This? This feels totally unproductive.”
And so she kind of sighs and agrees to sketch out some dimensions if I promise myself not to get too stiff about them. “Aim for a minimum of one hour of productivity per day—“
“GOD that sounds paltry,” I interrupt her.
“You’ll often have more time,” she reassures me. “But real life happens, and on some days the hour will be a stretch. Make time for it anyway.”
She continues, “make time for a minimum of one hour flow time, just like this (in other words, ’all over the place is fine' time) every three days or so. And finally, aim to accomplish three logistical items every other day (networking, research, etc.).”
I decide that ultimately all I have to do is this: every day, stack the odds in my favour. Turn down the worry. Turn up the Love. It is all so much simpler than we want to make it.