By good fortune, I met a person who had studied ayahuasca in Peru, learning from the shamans. When I told him what I was seeking, he agreed to lead me and four others through a session. This time the set and setting were entirely different from that of the structured Santo Daime. After bathing in the blue ocean water, we drove up to the end of a mountain road, left our car, and hiked to an isolated spot, a small plateau deep in the Wai’anae mountains of O’ahu, engulfed in lush foliage with an unobstructed view of the Pacific ocean in two directions. It is called Pupukea Highlands. The setting itself was an invitation for spirits to enter. Our group was small, and all of us had learned respect for the plant and its powers. We shared a common set.
We arrived at our spot in time to arrange ourselves before the moonless nightfall. By candle light we practiced deep breathing and toning in preparation for taking the brew. In ceremonial fashion, including blowing tobacco smoke over the brew, we each took turns drinking. Soon after, our leader extinguished the candles, reminding us to “Remember, the plant knows what it’s doing.” The isolation, silence and darkness were awesome.
I positioned myself comfortably on the ground, my back against the trunk of a large paper-bark tree. I felt very calm and relaxed, closed my eyes and waited for the plant to go to work. Once again, after about fifteen minutes I began to notice the familiar rippling effect. This time, however, the rippling quickly turned into full-blown turbulence. The plant was loose, and was wildly racing around exploring its new environment. It felt as though a caged animal had been released inside me, and was having the time of its life.
As the images and shapes began to appear, they had an air of joy and exuberance. The serpents were smiling, the jaguars laughing, and the giant birds swooped down over me caressing me with their outstretched wings. A parade of persons, both known and unknown, streamed by, each of them smiling and reaching out to touch me and tell me by look that they loved me. As the serpents and plants twisted and flashed before me, they appeared to be smiling and reassuring me that they had looked everywhere inside me, and that everything was o.k. As the evening went on, this cycle kept repeating. Images would come directly towards me at breakneck speed, smiling and laughing, then veer off for another tour of my entire system. I heard myself chuckling softly under the starlit sky.
Where was the darkness that I had experienced before? Where was Mr. Death, I wondered? Then suddenly, as though the plant heard my question, I saw the void. Only this time it was clearly in the background. It seemed to be peeping through the montage of vibrant colors and forms, as though to say, “I’m still here, don’t worry. It’s not time for me yet.” And then it faded away. As evening turned into night and morning, I saw the images slowing down and gradually fading away, almost reluctantly it seemed. We sure had a good time together that night.
About one month after that memorable night, I revisited Pupukea Highlands for another session, this time with a different mix of six people. I was prepared for a repeat experience, another exciting exploration and reassurance from the plant. But, that was not to be.
This time it was raining, which restricted our space under a makeshift tent. Again, we followed the procedures of the previous time, breathing, toning and ceremonially ingesting the brew. I lay down and waited for the action to begin. This time the onset was much more gradual, and never reached the intensity of the previous trip. The images were there: birds, serpents, plants, people. But, they were much less energetic, almost blasé. They seemed to be telling me, “We’ve already been this route, and we told you what we found. Let’s try something new.” Since I had entered the experience with a fixed agenda, the plant reacted as though it were bound. I now look upon that as my fault for not trusting the plant to take the lead.
If ayahuasca could talk in words, I’m sure it would have told me during that first trip to Pupukea to, “Take this energy that I’m giving you, and run with it. Latch on to one of the animals and go for the ride. There is nothing preventing you from soaring to new heights of consciousness and life.” That was the message that I got that first night in the Pupukea highlands.
Return to the doctor
Approximately two weeks after that session, I went for my scheduled visit with the oncologist. He greeted me warmly, and told me the results of my blood test the week before, which showed that my CEA count – the cancer activity indicator was not just normal. It was below normal! When he asked me what I had been doing to bring that about, I asked him if he had ever heard of ayahuasca. His reply was what one would expect from a physician trained in western allopathic medicine. I got as far as explaining that it is a medicinal plant used for centuries in the Amazon by shamans and healers, at which point he raised his eyebrows, shrugged his shoulders, and was no doubt thinking to himself, “Where did this nut come from anyway?” He ended the office visit with the pronouncement, “You’re one of the lucky few.”
Lucky? Perhaps so. But to dismiss my recovery against the odds as nothing but luck is to ignore centuries of experience by people who have learned to live with plants and understand them when they talk. From my experience thus far, I have learned to respect and listen to the plant, as well as those who know how to interact in the plant world. With more experience, I hope to learn some of that language myself. I will continue to treat my body and my spirit with ayahuasca, and work to teach others to respect it. As a former professor, the teaching part should come easily. In my current role as drug policy reformer, I will do all that I can to free this plant from the strictures that the DEA has so capriciously and arrogantly placed on it. I hope that people who read this article will join me in this effort.
Disclaimer: This article is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of CSglobe or its staff.
By: Donald M. Topping. Ph.D.| MAPS