Editor’s note: “Rising consciousness is going to get us out of this mess.” Maybe you’ve heard this. I happen to believe it is true. But what exactly does it mean? Whether ascending or emerging, universal or self, what is this thing called consciousness anyway? Is it a kind of awareness or sentience… a way of thinking… a brain state… an experience in a higher realm? Is this all a kind of intellectual BS pretentious people discuss at cocktail parties that serves no practical purpose? The old me might’ve nodded. But I listened to every single word of this banned TEDx talk by Graham Hancock about the plant medicine, Ayahuasca. Holy shit! His presentation blew my mind and my heart wide open. Hancock discusses a kind of sacred, magical contract that humans enter into with plants to undertake a “serious and important mission” for humanity. The themes and ideas he raises resonate so strongly with me — the purpose of our soul’s journey, what makes us human, and a call for the right of adult sovereignty over consciousness — that I feel called to share them. I’d love to hear your thoughts, your research, your experiences, and your feedback.
I was entrusted with this luminous Ayahuasca experience and given permission to share it with our fearless and sovereign tribe. Names and details have been changed to preserve the anonymity of all parties. Items in italics are songs evoked throughout the author’s journey.
* * *
As I lay out my sleeping bag, blanket, and pillows, I tenuously ponder what I would see and feel in the next six hours within these clay walls.
I am rife with excitement for this legendary and unparalleled path to expanded consciousness. I am also terrified.
I was about to experience my first dance with Ayahuasca tea.
Based upon my research into Ayahuasca ceremonies, I am afraid I will witness things that haunt my nightmares and tingle my scalp. Tangible terrors like spiders crawling on my body and endlessly falling through space. I thought these were my worst fears.
I would soon learn that it doesn’t always turn out the way you think.
While listening to the circle leader’s instructions, I survey the mysterious ashram. Nestled at the edge of the mountain in a mysterious fog, it seems to have materialized from the ether for a nefarious purpose.
To distract my apprehensive mind, I survey the cast of characters:
Thirty women are nestled on their mats, situated in a large circle within the ashram walls, including me and Esther.
Eight “babysitters,” angels of light who would guide us through the dark tunnels of our subconscious. Among them are Keira and Joellen, dear friends charged with our safekeeping.
The Ayahuasca experience begins
The circle leader and the Peruvian shaman take center stage on a small dais. The healer speaks in Spanish and the circle leader carefully translates.
The shaman requires us to take a pledge of understanding of what’s to come. This is holy medicine offered by nature to confront one’s demons for ultimate salvation. We should expect great physical discomfort and vomiting in the spirit of energetic purging of our pain.
One by one, the shaman soberly distributes the Ayahuasca medicine. The pause before the sip evokes the moment that Neo takes the red pill to escape The Matrix, with equally nebulous foresight.
After drinking the tarry brew, I settle into my home for the afternoon. My dear friend Esther and I exchange apprehensive glances.
I place my jade yoni egg on the blanket above my pelvis, uttering the intention I brought to heal the long-endured pain of my sensual goddess. I impassively gaze at the Ayahuasca-inspired wall tapestry hanging before me, admiring its fearful, jagged symmetry.
The participants regard each other with apprehension and compassion, some unaware of the harrowing adventure that would soon commence. The ones who have walked through this fire before possess a morose, knowing look that does nothing to settle my racing pulse.
I am reminded of the movie Contact, in the moments before Ellie plunges through the churning portal in the alien spacecraft, beyond comprehension of what she was about to experience. There would be many movie moments conjured by this journey, and I questioned the source of their inspiration.
Ever so quietly, the Aya wall tapestry begins to pulsate and quiver. The harshly geometric lines are lighting and dancing. My reverie is coming to an end’ I realize this is it.
I brace myself.
Sonic prisms of light burst through the window, and voices clatter off the ashram walls. Time is peeling backwards and forwards, too fast and too slow. The ticking clock rattles through the air, slowing to a crawl. Time as I understand it ceases.
I see the jagged tapestry lines in my third eye, and instantly comprehend my existence as an energetic being.
Suddenly the window light flashes too bright, and I burrow into my cocoon. Darkness envelops and the geometric light patterns pursue me into a spatial wormhole.
The wormhole becomes my mother’s womb, and I am being reborn. I now understand rebirth to be excruciatingly painful. My fluid sanctuary is draining and muscles are crushing me in a constricting vise.
A sloppy knife slices. I’m blinded by stinging artificial light and whisked away from my mother into a tunnel of fluorescence. I recall the terror of not looking into my mother’s loving eyes during my first delicate moments of life. My eclamptic birth had imprisoned her within a coma, our vital first touch stolen away.
It is the first moment I understand exactly how powerful this medicine is, unlocking cells of memory impenetrably deep within our subconscious.
But suddenly I remember the room, my tether to the tangible world. That this is my mind, and I can lucidly rewrite my story. I now imagine being placed on my mother’s ample bare chest, her loving gaze showering me with golden warmth.
I look up at her in wonder with stormy gray eyes and am home. My eyes turn icy blue, and become my sweet baby Sean’s eyes peering up at me. OK, I think to myself. Now I think I understand what to do.
I begin to reimagine Sean’s birth, obliterating the barbed wire memories of the frigid revolving-door triage room where I painfully labored unassisted for eight hours. The constant harping of the nurses to accept an epidural. The searing hot water of a bathtub, ineptly filled.
The knowledge that my bladder and pelvic floor disorders had in part prevented the primal birth I had set my heart on.
The callous disregard of the C-section anesthesiologist, asking why I cried when my second heart had just been stripped from my body like a splinter. The endless wait for my son to be brought to me for the first feeding. The disappointment in Marc, my partner. for failing to be my safe harbor in the typhoon of pain.
The mistake was mine. Marc was never going to fill that role, and I refused to accept it. I am filled with regret. It didn’t turn out the way I thought it would look.
I’ve relived those moments daily, but now, I see them in reverse, rewritten with the experience I’d dreamt of. A circle of strong women, my tribe, surrounding me in a pool of warm water in my home. Bearing down to the knife’s edge to bring delicate new life into the world. The confidence that my body possessed the ancient knowledge of what to do.
Sean is placed delicately on my chest, allowing his sweet, unwashed scent to permeate my air and release my liquid gold. I violently sob with relief. This is now my story.
Again I’m pulled through the wormhole, visiting hundreds of intimate moments between me and Sean. But I’m seeing myself through his eyes, my face radiantly smiling down upon him in his crib, feeding him his first foods, wearing him at the farmer’s market.
His piercing blue eyes of unconditional love, which bring streams of warm, golden tears down my face.
I never knew, and knew all along.
A nasal singing voice fills the ashram. I can’t locate its origin at first, as the sound echoes off the walls as if traveling forwards and backward through time. Seeing it is the shaman, I heave myself up to appreciate his ancient chant.
His attire strikes me; he sports a traditional woven poncho beneath a modern motorcycle jacket. Despite my intense pain, I silently laugh at the duality. It then becomes clear that I am surrounded by duality in this pulsating chamber.
Another cantor looked both man and woman, and neither. In every moment, pain and pleasure. I wonder if we had drunk the sap of the Tree of Knowledge, bestowing the world’s bifold beauty and darkness unto Adam and Eve with their stolen bite of the apple.
The wormhole wrenches me under again, and I’m brought to the playroom of Keira’s children, where just that morning her radiant daughter Elsa was arranging an “audience” of stuffed animals for a requested vocal performance.
I begin to sing, but my voice is strangled with nerves and fear. Having performed for thousands, I am perplexed by paralyzing vulnerability. I admit my nerves afterward, and her reply disarms me.
“It’s just one person,” she factually states. “And a few stuffed animals. Nothing to be afraid of!” Her sage wisdom leaves me in awe.
Perhaps I am enough.
Elsa transforms into a sandy-haired young girl with gray-green eyes. She is scared, lost, and yearning for compassion. The little girl is now me.
I realize my next task.
I place my hand on her trembling shoulder, and soothe, “Sweet girl. I know you’re scared and feel alone. You don’t know what you did to deserve your punishments. You did nothing wrong. One day, you’re going to grow into an extraordinary woman with infinite heart. Just wait, you’ll see!” And I bend to gently kiss her forehead.
The euphoric vision dissipates and I’m left standing in the middle of a country road. I recognize the road as one leading to my uncle’s Maine cabin. Oh no, I think. No, no, no, not this. Please, not this.
But it’s too late. I hear a car approaching ahead. Behind me, a pickup truck, going too fast. I turn back to the car and run towards it, waving my hands in warning. But she doesn’t see me, and the pickup truck veers out of its lane and senselessly plunges into her door.
The moment is all at once too fast and too slow, duality haunting me again. The scene repeats endlessly, and I’m caught in a loop, witnessing my youngest cousin Ellen’s untimely death with no reprieve.
Cousin Ellen, the younger of my twin girl cousins. The silent, morose twin who often retreated into her shell; who always climbed out when I would visit; who begged for horsey-back rides and cuddles during thunderstorms.
Ellen, whose intense fascination with death scared me, and who had found a passion in healthy living just before her departure.
Why did you take her soul from me?
Suddenly, atonal chimes return me to the room, calming and centering me. I break the surface of my cocoon, gasping for air and light. I look out the window and watch a lone tree sway in the breeze, its branches gently blurring in my sight.
I close my eyes and return to the scene. Ellen emerges from the battered vehicle, shining in a gray robe. She places a hand on my shoulder, saying, “I welcomed my death, cousin. You always knew that. I wasn’t afraid. And I’m always here.”
The resonant tones still my soul, like church bells in my sternum. A reverberating hush over my tailspin. I watch Ellen slowly disapparate with open, wondrous eyes. My God, I muse. Life is so fucking beautiful.
I close my eyes again and picture my Sean as his 3-year old self. A shining, wise wellspring of humor, unadulterated empathy, and love. My lighthouse in the raging squall.
Sean’s face suddenly morphs into a scrappy young boy in suspenders with sandy, sideswept hair and a filthy face. The boy is now my father.
My grandmother is standing before him, a woman so trapped within her venomous cauldron of loathing and enmity that she was incapable of showing my father unconditional love.
The sins of the mother become the sins of the son.
The window’s light grows strong and voice shimmers through the window. The voice belongs to Tracey, my guide on the path to eternal love. “Be his mother,” she urges. “Be the mother he never had.”
Steeling myself, I turn back to the tableau. I gently walk through my grandmother’s phantom and peer deep into my father’s haunted eyes.
“I have always loved you, Dad,” I speak. “And I promise I will never leave you.” My body convulses with years of anguish and resentment melting from the searing hot flames he left upon my skin. It is too much to bear, and I am flooded with the poignant sensation of forgiveness.
A bell rings, and the shaman begins to speak. He offers the first opportunity to receive more medicine. Only one hour has passed? I am incredulous. I’ve lived 100 years, how could this be?
The wormhole vanishes. I am completely lucid. Shaky, but sober. I am keenly aware of the glorious rapture and purgatory of Aya, of pain and pleasure, of being alive and wanting all of it.
Wait, I panicked. I still have work to do, I must go back!
My body levitates to request more medicine from the shaman, despite my protesting logic. I drink once again.
I’m returned to the wormhole, but not with gentle hands. Clawing talons drag me to hell. This is different. It is a waking dream and nightmare.
What have I done?
Sounds of violent retching permeate the stifled air. I take in the room of heaving women, wondering what demons these hapless souls were releasing from their bodies.
I am eternally trapped in the moment before throwing up from alcoholic overindulgence, but the sweet release never comes. I’m supposed to vomit to energetically purge, right? Why isn’t it coming? Have I not done enough work?
And then, I hear her.
A sinister, cutting, echoing whisper behind my left ear. It hisses, “See? You always take that extra drink and regret it. When are you going to grow up? Why are you such a fucking mess all the time?”
It is my shadow, toying with one of my deep insecurities. Keira had spoken of the Aya experience as a walk with your shadow. Only now do I understand.
I am submerged in a whorl of whispered fear and doubt. I realize I do not know how to weather this, gripped with inexorable physical agony and no lifeline.
The shaman approaches each soul singing ancient melodies. I hold on for dear life as he is my only tether now. I feel the shamans purifying spray of liquid spirit, allowing it to form a talisman.
“Hold on to it,” someone gently whispers. Not my shadow. My angel? Hold on to what?
“The stone you brought to heal,” the voice patiently sighs. Yes, of course! My yoni egg.
I desperately reach into the sleeping sack, finally locating the jade orb. It surprises me with a radiant, shimmering heat. I protectively clutch it, nourishing its long-since withered petals.
I watch in wonder as sepia light rays peek through my fingers, awakening the yoni’s incandescent energy.
With every dark hiss, I hear my angel fight the shadow’s tide with loving affirmations. Hearing the sinister whisper of self-hate in my left ear and my heart wisdom in my right ear drives me to madness.
The madness of my relentless urinary tract infections and interstitial cystitis flares. The searing pain of intimacy that would develop as a result. The screaming joints, endless fog, and pallid skin of my many illnesses to come.
The broken promise of everlasting love, shattered by a body that punished me for indulging in my sweetest, sensuous desires.
The expression of disappointment and regret on my beloved Marc’s face, which grew colder and darker as his loving gaze receded into twilight. He didn’t ask for this. But neither did I.
No, I didn’t ask for this. And it no longer has to be my story.
I feel a tingle in my scalp and touch my hair. Hair that I’d battered through incessant assaults of chemical abuse, much of which was lost in my health battle.
But now, the hair is growing and thickening in my hands. The more I caress it, the more grows. It pours off of my scalp, coiling around my hands. I realize this is my goddess’s hair, finally unbound from my mind’s prison. I revel in its plush, luxuriant cascade.
My hands travel to my body. I touch sumptuous skin and muscle that does not belong to me. With a loving and lustful grasp, I wonder how this succulent body could possibly be mine.
“Your body is broken, worthless. It has failed you at every turn. Failed Marc, failed Sean. Your body is a luscious mirage that cannot make good on its tempting promises. You are broken.”
Who was speaking — my shadow or myself? I am overcome with deep melancholy. I’ve been so unkind, discarding my flesh as failure. I have not shown my body any more unconditional love than my partner.
I work to recognize my body as my lifelong compatriot, not enemy. I flash through years of joyful and painful moments, realizing it never abandoned me throughout the strife I forced it to endure.
“I am so sorry I abandoned you, dear body. I will never leave you again,” I lovingly breathed into my core.
A tremor stirs in my depths. I feel a boiling inside and realize the energetic purge is at hand. Molten magma pours up through my body, alighting each chakra and escaping into the bucket. Choking on air, I open my eyes to witness a pool of glowing lava of my pain and suffering.
My pain is no longer my story.
A new voice floats through the ashram rafters. It is off-pitch, but sings of how we would never return to the person we once were. I giggle at the sweet, sincere atonal voice, thanking her for her vulnerability.
I remember that this is an opportunity to make an ask of the universe. I ask for love.
A truly conscious love that would push my boundaries of sensuous spirit and unchained heart. Who would walk as my equal and cradle me as my father. Who would not only tolerate my physical hindrances, but run toward and embrace them without fear or judgment.
I imagined no specific face, only the warmth and acceptance of a kind, enveloping smile. I revel in the warm glow, opening my goddess to this radiance.
Feeling a surge of loving kindness, I peer over to Esther who is doubled over, continuously retching. Esther, an archangel for our children. Who has sacrificed so much to protect our families. Who received no mercy for her own. How much can one woman endure?
I cast a protective field over Esther and will to relieve her of her pain. The truth strikes me like the streaming window light.
Esther is my spirit mother. Of course.
Seeing her seized with sadness, I desperately wish to embrace her but resist. We need to experience our own inner journeys now.
Until this point, I had just weathered the journey. But the excruciating pain begins to wear on my resolve. Not that there’s a choice. I’m strapped in with no emergency exit.
What am I supposed to do now? Oh yes, ask for help!
I hesitantly wave over to Joellen, unsure she can see me trapped in my mirror’s edge.
Joellen acknowledges me and begin her approach, with Keira worriedly looking on. Joellen and Keira transform into hand-brushed cave paintings of warrior goddesses, their bindis a shimmering beacon for the real world.
Joellen places her hands on my back and I suddenly feel a new breath of life. A skilled energetic healer, I instantly feel ecstatic and infinite love from her.
She looks to me. My eyes tell her that I need to be held. Held in a way that was unconditional and giving. She responds in kind, her sweet embrace pulling me from the ashes of madness.
Please don’t go, I silently plead. But she is needed elsewhere, my time having expired. I look into her angelic face and know she is my rainbow sprite, charged with my gentle salvation.
“Not so fast,” my dark twin seethes. My shadow tows me through a hellish replay of every moment of physical pain in my life.
Through the hours, dragged through each dark memory, hotspots of pain on my body seared with blinding heat, humming. A venomous vine snaking through every soft, damaged tissue.
The shadow hisses, “You don’t deserve to be loved. Who would want your baggage? You aren’t enough. You’ll never find love again.”
I feel the tentacles of madness’s descent slither about my body once again. A recess of my mind remembers the emergency cord. I signal an SOS to Keira.
Keira, the spectre of otherworldly beauty washing over me and all in her energetic field. A fearless warrior, with strength of man and feminine radiance. A harbinger of healing hope when I had nowhere else to turn, and I hadn’t even known her yet.
Being ushered into Keira’s inner circle was like flying close to the sun without singeing your wings. Every day I counted my blessings of the company of her and our tribe of goddess energy.
I feel Keira’s hands of light travel on my back, calming the screaming tissues beneath. There’s no impatience for me to heal, no rush. Just eternal space to find my way.
How could I be worthy of her love?
“Silly girl, you aren’t worthy,” sneered the shadow. “What have you possibly done to earn her presence?”
Suddenly Keira’s hands were gone. I panic. She left me!! But then her hands move and as quickly as her hands had vanished, they reappear. This vortex of palpability engulfs me as I duel my Doppelgänger for control of my spirit.
Just as I would slip, her hands returned me to sanity. Such is the work she was lovingly carved from alabaster to do. She rises to leave despite my voiceless plea. I steel myself for the solo journey once again.
I observe a thin, white halo of light surrounding her mahogany mane. I now know that this was her aura, bathing the room with iridescence as she stepped among the half-living.
I knew she wasn’t really leaving. She will never leave me, and I her. She is my spirit animal, and I realize we were birthed from the same heart in a sacred cosmic womb. Space and time would be of no relevance in our new sisterhood.
But the darkness closed in again.
“You’re a fool. You aren’t worthy of their love. And you will never. find love. again.” mistress Shadow rasped on.
No, I cried. No…
Suddenly, A new sound flooded the cavern and stirred me from my descent. It was the guttural rawness of a didgeridoo and singing bowl, once again stirring the roiling brew of heat and magma within my bowels.
Fuck you, bitch. Watch me.
WATCH ME, I shout, emboldened by Keira’s Midas touch and the didgeridoo’s staccato pulse.
I’m now standing on the edge of the mountain outside the ashram near a bonfire. Except, I am an Amazon priestess: clothed in a loincloth, Aya tapestry markings tattooed on my forehead, wild hair dancing about me.
I begin shrieking new declarations of freedom into the air while smashing a gong, stoking the bonfire:
I am not my pain (bong)
Pain is no longer my life story (bong)
I am not broken (bong)
I am worthy of love (bong)
I. AM. ENOUGH!! (bong)
My tribal call resounds amongst the mountain clouds, silencing the slithering voice. Temporary relief washes over and I bend to purge once again.
I feel a break in the cloud of my fever. I become hyper-aware of the room and my mind ceases its relentless spiral. But the pain, God the pain.
I feel the spiritual lessons are over, but the agony endures. I desperately look for the exit button, wondering if this would ever end.
It will end, Joellen had reassured. It always ends. I held on.
I remember that I haven’t eaten or drank in hours and clumsily grasp at my water bottle. I recall Keira’s advice to eat grapes to refresh your inflamed mouth.
I bite and am overwhelmed by an explosion of cloyingly saccharine sensation. It is too much. I reach for my apples and am soothed by the soft crispness and neutral flavor.
The final descent
The everlasting ache finally begins to release its vice grip and my mind clears. The room has gone dark and quiet. I observe the eerie lapis lazuli sunset glow through the windows. The arched portals shimmering like giant peering eyes into my soul.
A deep voice booms into my ears, rocking my core. “Your pain was a gift, love, as was your gift of telling stories of the ages. One day you will unleash your story upon the world and help thousands. Worry not, sweet child. We have a plan for you.”
Could this voice be…no. It couldn’t be. But I couldn’t help thinking, I am a whole woman now. Yes, I will tell my story.
Climbing out of my reverie, I remember that I haven’t relieved myself in over eight hours. If I relieve myself, all the pain will pour out. I just need to get up and a sitter will help me to cross the gaping black chasm between my nest and the bathroom steps.
Except, there were none left. As I shakily rise from my funeral pyre, I fearfully scan the room. I had waited too long; the sitters were all gone. I was alone.
“You never follow instructions, you always fuck up. And now you’re alone again. You see?” I winced at the truth in my shadow’s words, but was determined to persevere.
I carefully set one foot in front of the other, careful not to step on the candles or sleeping dead. I miraculously reach the restroom stairs. I peer down into the cavernous basement ahead and brave the steps. It was a silent descent into my personal hell, down into the Mayan hall of Xibalba where my soul would be judged.
I crawl to the restroom and release at last. My body unleashes thirty-six years of putrid fire, pain, resentment, suffering, melancholy, and grief. At long last, it is gone from me.
As I crouch on the floor, rocking, willing the fear of total darkness and isolation away, I envision my Amazon princess chanting new mantras:
I am not a mirage.
I am worthy of love.
I am a whole woman.
I am deserving of radiant happiness.
I am the master of my pain.
I will never get a flare again.
I have faith that my body knows what to do.
I am enough.
It didn’t turn out how I thought it would look, but it’s ok.
Because life is so fucking beautiful.
With renewed strength, I rise from the floor and wash the tears from my hands. And without thinking, I look in the mirror.
And there she stands: an inky, amorphous mass of tangled hair, her outline malevolently glowering in the candlelight.
My shadow, who had ruthlessly whispered my every demon during this harrowing journey. I pause to confront her and simply say, no.
I quickly look away before my mind could conjure a vision I could not unsee. She seethes a final protest before evaporating into nothingness.
I have passed the final trial.
As I exit the restroom, the song Outro creeps into my mind. Beginning a slow crescendo, at once mournful and hopeful, it carries me to the base of the steps. My life vividly flashes before me as I take each step, exiting the Underworld as Eurydice carried by the sweet melody of Orpheus.
Today’s journey is over.
I delicately step amongst the dead, at last released from fear. I enter my sarcophagus, never again to rise as the person I was before.
As my eyelids blearily crack to the eerie dawn light, I ponder to which reality I have awoken. But damp, cool air settles on my lashes and I once again enter the world of the living.
Cold, creaking bones stir to levitate my body. I descend down the steps to the restroom once again, the cunning shadows banished by ethereal morning light.
As I refresh myself, I curiously examine the events from the last twelve hours. Was the angelic voice I heard Source Energy or just a chemical reaction of hallucinogens? Were my visions wisdom I’ve always possessed, but never before untapped?
It matters not. It simply is.
Cleansing the tears from my hands, I tenuously look in the mirror. I am shocked to see bright, luminous skin, cradling clear, azure eyes. Rosy mirrored lips that do not belong to me utter in wonder, “you are the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen.”
And in that moment, I believe her.
* * *
When asked by others to describe my divine dance with Mother Ayahuasca, I am left with no words and infinite words. Duality visits again. The duality of having bitten from the Tree of Knowledge and Power come full circle.
Instead I simply tell them, “It… didn’t quite turn out the way I thought it would look.”
In quiet moments, my mind often wanders back to the lone ashram perched on the edge of the mountain. The temple shrouded in impenetrable fog. The tomb where I interred my corporeal self as sacrifice for an illuminated understanding of my core being.
Hearing its siren call. “We are not done with you yet… you have much work left to do.” I know this to be truth.
The ashram, which vanished into the mist as quietly as it appeared.
“Don’t you worry, child. Heaven’s got a plan for you.” ~ Swedish House Mafia