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Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Vine of the Soul: Ayahuasca


I have always had a deep quixotic nature which sometimes takes my life in surprising new directions.  Some view it as living on a whim, but at some point you have to follow your instincts and listen to the call.  This brings me to my present location... a few hours outside of Iquitos, deep in the Peruvian Amazon basin, living in a hut, and spending my nights trying to straddle between two worlds.  One foot in the physical world, and another in the ethereal.

IMG 5121Last night, shortly after darkness had blanketed the jungle, I was led to the maloca, a ceremonial hut where I was met by a couple of others and the three curanderos, or shaman, presiding over the ceremony.  We would be drinking ayahuasca, also known as yage, la purga, or the vine of the soul. 

The only light illuminating the hut was three candles burning on the floor and three on the table. Everyone took their places on the mats that were lying on the floor.   The shamans passed the bottle of ayahuasca to each other as they took turns blowing icaros, their healing songs, and smoke from their mapacho cigarettes into the dark brew.  Each shaman poured and drank a small dose of the potion, and then we were called up individually to do the same.  One of the curanderos then came around and rubbed Agua de Florida on our exposed skin for protection, a scented alcohol to mask our human smell from the spirits.  The candles were extinguished and we were left in the darkness of the night, lying on the floor of the maloca.  The shaman then started blowing and singing their icaros, calling the spirits, calling the mareacion.

Staring into the darkness I was beginning to see green dots forming in the thatched roof of the maloca.  I felt pressure and a buzzing building inside my head that was growing at an exponential rate. One of the shaman, Jose, began blowing smoke over the length of my body.  I could sense a shift in my perception, and I looked up just in time to see him trail away.  At that point the roaring in my head seemed to explode as I was rushed into another world. What started as colors and geometric patterns at first turned into full blown visions, taking me through an inner journey... or an outer journey for that matter.  The icaros which sounded daunting at first now floated through the air with beautiful melodies which seemed to grab and propel me through the oncoming visions.  There were points when I didn't know If I was sitting up or laying down, asleep or awake, whether my eyes were open or closed, if I was alive or dead.   There was no longer an I or me, a total loss of ego.  I could hear colors, smell sounds, taste sights.  I experienced and saw how every living thing is connected through this grand web, or design.  I was shown how there is really no death.  Life grows, changes, mutates, falls, rests, only to birth new life.  Profound thoughts, experiences, visions, and grand realizations were coming at full force.  Just as my conscious mind would come in and I thought I had a grasp or understanding about something, the ayahuasca would contradict everything, humbling me like a teacher to a student, telling me "you don't know anything yet, sit back and learn".

From time to time I would even hear the shaman seem to get lost in the visions and have to stop and recompose themselves and then the other would start blowing their icaros.  During these breaks I would be brought back to the earthly world for a moment. I could hear the others breath out a deep sigh to try to compose themselves as well.  The processes that were taking place inside were too deep and immense to grasp.  All I could do was try to relax, breathe, and bear witness to what was happening.



About three and a half hours into the ceremony we came to one of these breaks.  I got up and sat along the ledge circling the maloca.  I noticed a spark as Manuel, one of the shaman, lit his mapacho cigarette.  In the blaze I saw what was more than the face of a man.  It was the face of an ancient majestic healer.  I could see this innate knowledge written throughout the lines on his face.   As the spark faded we were left in darkness once again.  As Manuel started to blow an icaro into the air, a slight drizzle began.  Tones of breath gave way to a whistle, and the rain seemed to fall a little harder.  Just as he broke into full song, the bottom dropped out of the sky, and the rain poured down to the ground.  As it hit I could feel the energy being pushed through me and into the center of the hut.  At that moment in time it seemed like he had ushered in the rainstorm for a cleansing. 


I began hearing the screeching of what sounded like hundreds of bats circling the maloca.  Manuel was now slapping a cloth over his shoulders to the rhythm, and the harder he sang the harder it rained. I could feel the vibrations of the icaros radiating out and permeating my being, then reverberating up and out.  Up to this point my body, mind, and spirit have never felt so light and in tune.  I was a completely clear channel.  Every cell in my body felt like it was vibrating.  The notes rose higher and higher eventually bringing the ceremony to a close, and the rain began to dissipate.  The three candles were lit in the middle of the floor and Manuel came around to give everyone a hug and make sure that we were doing alright.  The girl across from me jumped up for the embrace with tears streaming down her face.  Everyone was grateful for what they just experienced.



We all got up for our trek back through the night time mist to our huts to try to get some sleep as we were all pretty exhausted at that point.  Lying there in the darkness the sounds of the jungle started to fall into their synchronistic rhythms as they usually would at night.  The rain was starting to fall again, and I could almost hear what sounded like a faint icaro being blown from the middle of the woods. The rhythms started to take on the sound of drums, and the patterns began to emerge in the darkness once again.  I watched as the patterns turned into feet pounding the ground to the beat of the drums.  It was a shaman wearing a multicolored cloak made of leaves and feathers performing some sort of ritual, dancing to the beat.  He stamped his foot and pulled the cloak over his face turning into a birdlike creature flying over a beautiful landscape eventually landing, only to blend back in with the scenery.  Engulfed in the rhythms, the vibrations, and the patterns of the jungle, I drifted off to sleep.

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©Chris Perkins

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