Ayahuasca, the Vine of Souls: Part 2

The second post in a two-part installment on my initial encounters with the visionary plant medicine of ayahuasca. ~ LRH

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Three months have passed since my initial ceremony with ayahuasca, the entheogenic medicine from the Amazon; an initiatory experience wherein I was ritually dismembered by the plant’s spirit embodied as a powerful black jaguar, and then restored on a deep, core level—catapulted into multidimensional realms hitherto unimagined and unexplored.

Profound and continuing changes have unfurled in me since that night—the single most powerful healing I have ever experienced, and this I say as a healer of more than two decades. Several physical patterns of restriction and holding in my body (neck, shoulder, hip), that I had attempted for years to resolve with all sorts of therapies and modalities, have entirely shifted and released. Yet perhaps the most noticeable and dramatic transformation is that the dark clouds of depression, a sullen greyness that I have lived under for most of my life, have lifted and not returned. Really, it borders on miraculous. Beyond the body or moods, my whole life feels different these days, suffused with a gentle luminosity rather than lingering shadows.

Thus again, I have traveled north to a remote location on the Pacific coast where fragrant conifers stand watch over a ceremonial kiva, a great round chamber excavated in the earth where an elderly medicine man, wearing a headdress of blue macaw feathers, presides over a circle of roughly fourteen participants—all of whom have come in search of some type of deep healing, mystical guidance, or renewal in their lives.

Like the previous experience, I have undertaken a prescribed cleansing diet for roughly a week beforehand, that I heightened by completely fasting for the final three days—similar to undertaking a ‘vision quest’ of sorts, as I have in the past. My bodysoul feels light and clear, inaudibly humming with a high vibration. Almost shimmering as if illuminated by distant star fire.

In the candlelit cave-like room, the air thickly perfumed with smoke from burning white sage, from a Dixie cup handed to me by the shaman I’ve swallowed a small amount of dark brown liquid that tastes something like molasses mixed with kerosine. Sitting for awhile, waiting for the mysterious plant medicine to come on, I decide to exit the hot, stuffy kiva and be outside with the noble trees and rising moon on this alluring August evening.

Three of us have gathered by the welcoming campfire, each with our bucket in case of an unexpected ‘purge’, and silently we sit, listening to the crackle of flames as they hungrily devour the logs, watching hot golden sparks shoot upwards toward the fading sky. The air smells freshly of oceanside evergreens, and occasionally from the womb of the great kiva rises the cracked, gravelly voice of the medicine man singing his songs, the cadence of his drum like a distant heartbeat. I feel just a bit disconnected from the group and the ceremonial container of the circle, but it also feels right to be beside the fire, savouring the fair, coastal night.

At a certain point, feeling some numbness in my face and tingling in my limbs, detecting that the medicine is beginning to come on, thinking I should go back into the kiva and lay down before the full effects hit hard like last time, I hear Mother Ayahuasca clearly speak to me—a voice I now recognize—indicating that the psychotropic potion is indeed taking hold.

Stay where you are.

A journey beside the flames, watching the Fire Elementals appear

It feels clearly like an instruction, so I remain in my chair beside the fire pit, observing the flames unexpectedly come to life with dancing Fire Elementals, the nature spirits often known as Salamanders. Sensing that fairly soon I will want or need to lie down, suddenly I wish that I had brought my pad and sleeping bag from the kiva. Already I am slightly too impaired to navigate back into the great chamber and return carrying my things, but I don’t want to request help from one of the ‘sitters’, the experienced assistants who tend participants in the group during a ceremony. Sitting with my reluctance, observing my own character strategy quite clearly—the need to be independent and a reluctance to ask for help—again I hear Mother Ayahuasca speak.

You don’t have to do this alone. In fact, you are NEVER doing it alone… anything in life. Simply ask and then be supported.

Thus I practice unfamiliar behavior in asking for assistance, and the sitter kindly brings not only the pad and sleeping bag but also my pillow. For a minute, I allow myself to simply feel the experience of being bolstered in such a request—taking it in as a sort of psychological resource, a missing experience—noting the softening in my belly and sensation of warmth in my core as I turn the words over in my mind, almost like a mantra: you are never doing it alone. 

As a clairvoyant healer who can ‘hear’ guides and disincarnate entities, and occasionally see them, I know her statement rings true. Still, our patterns and projections hold us until we relinquish them, one way or another. Tonight I will let myself be supported… first step of a change.

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Comfortably recumbent as the visionary brew slowly comes on with its effects, I listen to the snaps and pops of hungry flames while watching the glow of firelight upon the tall conifers overhead. Tonight will be a full moon but it has not yet risen, and in the periwinkle twilight, small bats twirl dizzily amid silhouetted trees as the first twinkling stars begin to appear. The sky fades to purple while I follow the throaty calls of raven, along with the shack-shack-shack of a pair of black-crested Steller’s Jays in the branches above me, loving all their raucous voices and smiling. In this timeless and unspoiled environment, a ripple of true joy echoes like quiet thunder throughout my wild soul, and there is nowhere I’d rather be.

I love seeing you here with the trees.

Mother Ayahuasca’s voice in my head almost startles me. The medicine is gradually growing stronger but I haven’t yet ‘felt’ her approach or presence. Meanwhile, Nature boy that I am, in my very bones I’m rejoicing to be with the noble Standing Ones under a darkening dome of sky, feeling eager rather than apprehensive about the oncoming visionary journey. Reading my thoughts, she speaks again.

Patience, beloved. There is no need to rush. I have long hours to dance with you tonight… and we are just beginning.

Indeed, the experience feels like a sweetly loving two-step, and then suddenly I ‘see’ her as before, the sleek black jaguar with glowing green eyes, but rather than tearing the holding(s) from my body like last time, she affectionately rubs against me with an approving rumble in her chest, almost like a giant house cat.

You’ve shown me your devotion, she says, and I can sense her warm approbation.

This initial wave of effects still feels quite mild, as if I’ve simply smoked a bit of cannabis, and I’m considering drinking an additional dose when it’s offered roughly and hour and a half into the ceremony. I’ve already lost track of time, but on a scale of intensity, last journey was a 10+ and so far, this experience pales in comparison. I had braced myself for another extreme episode of having my mind blown open, yet somehow it feels completely appropriate to have a gentle, manageable ride… or a slow dance.

I’m invited (instructed?) to sit up and engage visually with the other participants who are fireside, two women, one of whom has begun vomiting loudly into her plastic bucket.

Send them some healing energy…

A ‘sitter’ is nearby to assist, but across the crackling flames I send waves of energy from my hands and heart, wishing the deepest healing to the woman purging as she expels some old aspect of herself. This is the work we’re all here to do in one form or another: releasing the past and patterns that no longer serve our highest good.

Laying down again, some colourful visuals dance behind my eyes—swirling patterns of cosmic circuitry, morphing between geometric designs and pulsing fractals of energy and light—but they are far less intense than my previous experience.

Like a prayer hung upon the evening breeze, threads of the shaman’s voice drift from the kiva some thirty yards away, and again I feel a fleeting yearning to be inside with the others, but I trust that I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be—where I’ve been instructed to remain. And suddenly I’m chuckling at myself, for here I am outside and apart from a group, something of a loner and recluse, enacting a pattern that is SO well-worn and familiar. Yet tonight it is also very right.

The Hermit of the Tarot, one of the Major Arcana, flashes briefly through my mind.  Wearing a robe or hooded cloak and carrying his lantern, able to see only a few steps at at time while ascending and spiraling the mountain in search of higher knowledge and inner wisdom, he patiently follows his solitary path to connect with the spiritual self. It’s an archetype I’ve long resonated with—ever since living alone in a shaman’s adobe tower on the edge of a wild mesa amid thousands of acres of piñon and juniper—and I wonder, as I have before, will my own lantern eventually light the way for others…?

Bones, sticks, fur, feathers, and Tarot

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Per the group instruction, and as with my initial ceremony a few months ago, I’ve set several healing intentions for this sacred circle. These include: being a surrogate for any healing work for my stepmother as she struggles with cancer; asking for family lineage repair and healing, especially for my recently met half-brothers with whom I am beginning to build relationship, men who carry the same birth legacy of depression, bipolar tendencies, and generational suicide; and for myself, further insight into path and work, along with finding my place in the world. Rather a tall order.

Shall we begin looking at your intentions…? queries the Jaguar in my mind.

One by one, through a combination of her voice and streaming visuals, she leads me down the path of what I have asked for this night. The purple sky darkens to blue velvet scattered with diamonds, and as the hours slip away I engage in healing work throughout the tangled web of my human family relationships.

Indeed, I realize that everything she and I are undertaking tonight relates to family, and at some point, as my eyes open to consider the luminous pearl of moon, the firelight-illuminated tree above me suddenly becomes a living metaphor of my ‘family tree’—despite that I was adopted and possess only a minimal, recently acquired sense of blood ties after meeting my birthmother and her sisters.

Amid the night’s shadows and firelight, the attendants occasionally move about, covering us with additional blankets, adding logs to the flames, ‘smudging’ us journeyers with smoky blessings of white sage and fragrant palo santo using an owl or hawk’s wingOnce or twice, I’m aware that someone is assisting the woman still purging into her bucket, and later helping the other woman to the outhouse, but I’m unclear which of the sitters is nearby and it doesn’t really matter.

I am tended, warm, and utterly safe. Tears of gratitude stream from the corners of my eyes, washing warmly down my checks like little rivers of sparkling moonlight, for beneath these watchful trees I am undergoing a sublime journey and healing experience, as gentle as the first ceremony was rough.

See? I can be as loving and kind as I am ferocious.

There is a continued releasing of holding patterns, mostly on the right side of my physical and energetic bodies, corresponding to the masculine, but much, much milder than last journey. Like clouds parting and a ray of sunlight shining through, I see myself as I truly am—River of stars, trees and earth—an ancient soul deeply connected to the livingness of Gaia, just as in so many lifetimes before. This too makes me weep.

Amid the trees, doorways opening to other realms and healing

Continuing the insights and instructions received at the end of my previous journey, when Mother Ayahuasca reminded me and focused upon my role as a healer, I am shown multiple facets of my work—the Sacred Masculine, teaching, healing, writing—along with how those pieces will be supported in tangible ways by different places on earth (namely California, New Mexico, and dear old England, where I resided some years previously).

I cannot recall the last time I cried from a feeling of love. Gazing upwards at the full, radiant goddess of moon beyond the shadowed redwoods, tears continue to flow from a heart brimming with a primal, ageless connection with wild beauty. I am a wellspring of gratitude for the sweet solace that nature has given me for so very long, while I’ve wandered through the various wildernesses of this life, inner and outer, carrying my sadness like a bundle of dreams wrapped in tattered blue silk.

Silently I pray—to the trees, stars, moon, spirits, and Mother Ayahuasca—that someday soon, very soon, the gypsy who I am will find the place to call home that deeply nourishes me on all levels, that I may continue bringing forth from the soul what is uniquely mine to offer to the ‘other-than-human’ world.

As if in response to my entreaty, I feel myself drawing strength on this gentle journey—from Her, from the earth, and from unseen forces around me—as if a honeyed light or warmth flows into my very cells from invisible roots or filaments. And in that moment, I deeply trust that Spirit and this medicine knows exactly what I need, along with where I am headed; whereupon I promptly yawn in a massive energetic shift that I recognize as a loud ‘yes’ signal from my guides and Highest Self.

Blessed be, River.

redwoods moon

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A beautiful female voice is singing, arising from the kiva. Surely she must be an angel…? My heart opens golden wings in response, ready to take flight. And in an ensuing moment of crystalline clarity, though the scope of the insight defies all words, I see (feel? grasp?) that everything in the universe is becoming—evolving into its perfect fullness and destiny. Each of us is an integral part of this ongoing, wild blossoming of soul, nature, and God consciousness.

Tonight’s journey is winding down and lessening, like a summer rainstorm moving on across some high desert plateau. Wordlessly I remark upon its gentleness, expressing my sincere appreciation, to which she responds:

The difficult part is over… for now. Going forward, the hard part will be healing for others.

In a final benediction or a charge laid upon me as a summons, as if I were some sort of knight or initiate, Mother Ayahuasca instructs that I begin apprenticing to this visionary medicine work as a healer—informing me that one day I will be a medicine man/shaman who leads others into these realms for deepest healing of mind, body, spirit and soul.

Can one even refuse such a behest? Eyes still wet with tears, staring up at a fistful of glittering jewels flung across the inky sky, knowing that my entire life is about to change, I humbly accept.

Unexpected, this, but so it begins.

I am a wild becoming…

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I cannot guess the hour, only that it is very late at night or possibly early morning. I’ve returned to the warm, timeless cocoon of the kiva, seated atop my mat among the other participants, and the single white candle on the central altar has burned low. Again the air is thick with pungent smoke from sacred ‘smudging’ herbs, and in the shadows of the large chamber, a handmade pottery bowl containing crumbled up animal cookies and blessed water passes slowly from person to person. When the vessel reaches them, each participant sits up and takes it in hand, holding it to the heart, and speaks aloud—sending prayers of “sweet medicine” into the world. This is the transpersonal closing of the ceremony, wherein the work that we have collectively done for healing ourselves is now ushered outwards to others in the great web of life. It is a ritual that takes at least hour, but my already thankful heart opens yet wider to encompass the whole of humanity and earth, and I am steeped in tenderness, compassion, and even deeper gratitude.

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Cosmic mind

In the passage of time since my initial journeys, I have come to know Mother Ayahuasca intimately, yet like so much of the cosmos, she remains an unfathomable mystery. Just as I intuited that night, my entire life changed as a result of the shamanic initiation that subsequently unfolded—a rigorous, repeated, and sustained plunge into chthonic realms of healing, learning to work within the multidimensional realms of this powerful medicine that I might hold the space for others. Even as a healer, I’ve undergone a global shift, from diet and personal habits to self-care, my relationships included, all in support of this path.

More than ever before, I’m convinced that shamans are called. Anything less than such a summons—say, making the choice for an ego-based sense of self rather than soul, or as a identity/badge to wear—is woefully insufficient to carry one along the utterly demanding journey of initiation: the breaking open (both internally and into larger dimensions), repeated sacrifice, and unwavering devotion to an uphill, rocky climb.

Of my own apprenticeship as a medicine man, I will say little here, other than that the passage has been truly difficult—the most challenging thing I’ve ever undertaken. I have been left shattered and weeping upon the floor, and more than once I’ve been carried to bed after a healing, having given more than I thought humanly possible—and just as foretold by Mother Ayahuasca, the hardest parts have been what I’ve undertaken for others.

While I appreciate the Plant Teachers or Master Plants are perhaps the most powerful evolutionary force we can enlist for aid in our personal transformation, for at least a dozen reasons they aren’t for everyone. By her own words, Mother Ayahuasca is “not a magic wand.” Further, in a culture that doesn’t understand and cannot contextualize such medicine, finding the appropriate resources—especially for the essential integration afterwards, similar to when one returns from a vision quest in the wilderness—is a key factor in whether or not the changes will be lasting. (An increasing amount of my work centers upon integration coaching and counseling for those who have undertaken these journeys.)

Nothing about this work is recreational; simply the purging should offer a clue to that. Moreover, I have come to understand that the most profound levels of healing with plant allies—just as with working with any spirit or entity—are reserved for those who come in a respectful and ceremonial fashion, with an open heart and mind, willing to engage in a reciprocal relationship.

In our own ways, each of us seeks healing. We might call that a quest for meaning, or wholeness, or connection; it may be a spiritual path or looking for our place in the world. Yet all of these are simply other facets of healing and the process of finding our own light, along with the gift we have to offer.

Friend, wherever the trail leads you, whether to a medicine ceremony, to a mountaintop, or some other avenue of healing, may you find the soul courage to enter the darkest, most challenging places within yourself, to say ‘yes’ to them and, in doing so, uncover your innermost light.

To the best of your ability, trust the Mystery.

No matter how it may seem, you are never doing it alone.

A ceremonial altar

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For information on Skype sessions with River for shamanic integration coaching/counseling, visit his primary website: soulquests.com