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More on Mother Ayahuasca

notes on Drinking Ayahuasca in Brazil

and (on another page) Peru in 2008.

©Tom Riddle, 2008

Contents:

March 3: Opening the heart.
March 9: Meditation and a story from Tibet
March 12: Death on the beach
March 13: Death and re-birth
March 16 Oh, mama, can this really be the end . . . and forgiveness.
March 21, Magic on a rainy day and metta meditation
March 25, Bliss in the jungle, more on metta meditation
March 28, Death and rebirth on the high seas

Brief intro:

In early 2007 I drank ayahuasca, Amazonian's "Vine of the Gods," about twenty-one times in Brazil and Peru, a story told in Meeting Mother Ayahuasca

It was only after I left Brazil that the profundity of those experiences became apparent. I felt that I had no choice but to return in 2008. These are my 2008 notes.

arrow to table of conentsMonday, March 3, 2008

In the last few months the local ayahuasca center, Essence of the Divine, has moved from the wonderful beach resort of Frances, from where one can hear the ocean waves breaking in the distance, to a place about an hour's drive away in the rolling hills outside of the town of Maceio here in northern Brazil. Why I thought, when I first arrived at the new center early Sunday afternoon, did they mess with a good thing?

The one building in the new center is one huge thatch umbrella. The umbrella is the size of a small circus tent so there's plenty of room for a group of 50 or so people to sit comfortably beneath it on hot days and rainy nights. But the floor is dirt and there is no water, electricity, or bathrooms— not even an outhouse. The umbrella is at one end of a valley that is about as wide as a soccer pitch and possibly 10 soccer fields long. On the other side of the distant hill is the ocean from where gentle ocean breezes flow up through the valley to the hut. The valley is mostly scrub with a few trees. There are no buildings anywhere in sight.

01_looking_up_the_valley_with_hut_2
Click any pic to enlarge.

By the middle of the afternoon twelve or so people had gathered there to drink "the vine of the Gods." I knew about a third of the people—we are now old friends from our days of drinking ayahuasca last year. While I had been away all of them had continued to drink ayahuasca at least twice a month—exploring the depths of their subconscious. Even though they do it regularly, everyone still takes the ayahuasca with great seriousness and every session begins with a prayer. There is not a hint of recreational use. But then how could there be? Basically, ayahuasca, like meditation, is something that only appeals to a few people. People drink coffee to make office work easier and beer to make talking easier. These guys drink ayahuasca to make meditation easier. Nevertheless, perseverance, hard work, and dedication are the keys to success. This isn't anything like alcohol, cocaine, or marijuana. This, like meditation, is something that opens you up to look inside. What is inside is not always pretty or comfortable. There is no where to hide. Besides that, the taste of ayahuasca is revolting and the more you drink, the worse it tastes.

Today the plan was that everyone else would drink a little ayahuasca and practice singing for one of the upcoming formal ceremonies while I would drink the special concentrated ayahuasca, which they call mel, Portuguese for honey.

honey
The honey is in the dark bottle.

The local ayahuasca master, Andre, is out of town so the second in command, a master-in-training, very carefully poured onto a soup spoon the thick black honey-like ayahuasca He then placed the spoon in my mouth. I licked the spoon clean. It didn't taste bad at all.

I sat in the meditation posture and waited. I didn't have to wait long before murals of middle American Indian art started to form before my closed eyes. I've seen that art from previous ayahuasca journeys—it comes from temples in Mexico. So this is why, I thought, I'm studying Spanish. If nothing else, before I die, I'd like to see where this artwork comes from. The murals got extremely colorful and soon my whole body became a mural and then my chest opened up and my heart was taken out of my body.

My heart was removed. That is, I saw it rise out of my chest and disappear somewhere. I wasn't particularly afraid or uncomfortable—it just happened and I just watched it. That was a new one.

Not long after that, however, the ayahuasca became uncomfortably strong. "Jesus, God, guy," I wondered about the local ayahuasca master-in-training, "why did you start me out with such a knock-out hit? Hasn't anybody here heard of moderation?" This was much more than I had bargained for. I can't say that I was afraid, just extremely uncomfortable in the way that a person might be uncomfortable after drinking a hugh glass of gin— "Damn, now I'm so drunk that I'm out of my mind. I just gotta wait a while until this wears off and I get my brain back." Like a good Buddhist mediator, I tried to ask myself what it was that was uncomfortable and where was the source of the discomfort. But that didn't help much. I couldn't find out why I was so uncomfortable; I just was extremely uncomfortable. I didn't want to lay down and close my eyes — going that far inside was just too much. I couldn't handle it. What to do? With great effort, I stood up and paced up and down, what meditators call “mindfulness of walking.”

I was hallucinating a little and the normal barriers that stop each of us from looking at ourselves and seeing ourselves as who we are—frail, aging, beings—had been removed. Looking at anyone else, and seeing their humanity and frailness, was not possible. A few times I almost lost my balance and many times I thought I was going to throw up.

The discomfort continued as everyone else sang their "hinaros" or ayahuasca songs. If the master had been there I would have asked him to say one of his healing prayers, but he wasn't, so I just had to deal with it. Finally though the thought came to me that perhaps I could ask one of the people there for a little massage to spread the energy evenly throughout the body and make me more comfortable. I asked the right person. He is in training to become a professional masseuse and thought that working on me was the perfect way to get some practice. He seemed to press the right buttons because after a few minutes my great discomfort turned into bliss. And suddenly I was back at the exact same place in the exact same state of mind that I had been in the last time I drank ayahuasca about 11 months ago.

My mother, having died in October of last year, was no longer with me, but other old friends were there with me.

For the second time in my ayahuasca experiences, the Buddha came to me. Like the last time, he asked me to be with him when he died; he didn't want to be alone. I told him that there was nothing to be afraid of. He said he knew that, he just didn't wanted some company. Of course, I said, I understand and, of course, I'll be with you.

Other old friends stopped by—by now some of us have been on this path for so long that we just give each other a nod and a wink and keep going. We are each other's greatest comfort. Some of those people have never drank ayahuasca, they are simply sincere and dedicated practitioners, working, as the Buddha said, to get off of the wheel of birth and death. Other people and I simply have some kind of deep connection that I cannot explain.

We wished each other well. After that I found other people, and then everyone I could think of, and wished them well. There wasn't anyone that I wasn't ready to share a few breaths and a few heartbeats with. What else can one do? You can't change people, you can only take comfort with them, and wish them well as we go through this life's journey. Things are just what they are— we're all going to die soon enough, but until then, we should try to be good to each other. This isn't rocket science; this is life.

After some time I stood up.

Evening was coming to the valley. As the light faded, the valley opened up with the most incredible sounds of the insects, birds, and animals who live there. There was an absolute symphony of different sounds coming from around the valley.

As always, some of the local musicians were outstanding. When the formal singing practice ended one of the men played guitar, prayed, and sang in a style that was transforming. He had a way of bringing people into his voice and heart. A few of us sat around him, transfixed.

As the ayahuasca wore off I, like everyone else felt very social. I met some of the people there for the first time. One of the men had been born and raised a Mormon. He stopped being a Mormon with his first taste of ayahuasca These days he's a lawyer and dreams of joining the Brazilian version of the FBI.

One of the women I met is half Chinese, speaks Chinese, English, and Portuguese, and has lived in China. These days she designs and sells lighting fixtures while waiting to take up her profession as an architect. She is two months pregnant, so she only drank a little bit of ayahuasca. Later she says, when the pregnancy has progressed, she plans to drink more to help strengthen the baby.

My oldest friend here, Dacio, still runs his recording studio and says that business is okay although there are good days and bad days. When his ex-wife traveled through Europe she stopped at sacred places and put coins from each place into a heart-shaped glass jar. When she returned from her trip she gave the jar to Dacio—now those coins adorn his guitar.

People were curious to know what I had experienced with the ayahuasca It turns out that the master only allows a few people to drink the mel, that I had just consumed. He calls it "Heart of Maria." He claims that it can open up a person's heart.

Yes, I see that now.

arrow to table of conentsSunday, March 9

The week has slipped by as I study Spanish and finish computer projects. Over the week I've gotten to know the people who run this guest house, that has one guest, me. The woman who runs it had told me that she doesn't speak English. Gradually though, I've learned that Gabriella spent her senior year of high school in New Zealand and that her English is excellent. She is studying biology with the idea of becoming a researcher. Her husband is a fisherman. Between them they have the happiest baby I've ever seen. Their two year old son is like a little Buddha as he wanders here around radiantly smiling and greeting everyone he sees. Sometimes I've wondered if the kid has brain damage—no one should be that happy. His mother assures me that his brain is, as far as she can tell, normal. Good for him. He can learn all about unhappiness later in life.

The only other excitement is that I've started jogging along the beach. It is exciting because for the last few months my arthritis has made jogging impossible. One spoonful of ayahuasca, zapped that one. Yoga has taken on new dimensions as well.

So life and days in this guest house flew by until today, one week after my last taste of ayahuasca, when I drank the vine of the Gods again. Today, just like last week, I was the only person drinking the concentrated ayahuasca that they call mel, honey. It turns out that everyone else is either afraid to drink it or the master won't let them. Gosh, if I had known that, I never would have taken it last week. But there I was again, licking the spoon clean.

in_hut

The plan today was a bit different than last week's. This week everyone would drink ayahuasca together and then we would sit together in silence for what is called "work" for about 45 minutes, and then the singing practice would begin.

After I had my spoonful I sat in a chair and waited for the same sense of dread and discomfort that I had last week, but it never came. That was a surprise. When the work ended and the singing practice began I wondered what I should do. Suddenly it occurred to me that this was an excellent opportunity to catch up on my meditation. (Even though I sit for an hour every morning.) As expected, once I pulled myself into the full-lotus posture and closed my eyes, I turned up the heat about thirty degrees. Now once again everything became a moving panorama of incredibly colorful and, at times, frightening images.

With Buddhist meditation there is usually what is called "an object of meditation." Often people watch their breathing. Another object of meditation can be simply watching the body. I spent several years doing that kind of meditation with the Burmese meditation master S. N. Goenka. For some reason that style appealed to me today – slowly sweeping through the body from top to bottom and back again.

It would be nice to say that the ayahuasca made the meditation much easier. In fact though it was about like piloting a small sale boat in a hurricane that had a broken mast and a broken rudder. The only thing to do was to hold on for dear life and hope for the best. But I did it. As I did, I reflected on two of the Buddhist meditation masters I've sat with in the last few years. One of them is the abbot of a meditation center in Thailand. At 74 he can still sit like a rock for hours. I know because last year I sat with him and his 40-year-old assistant who also sits like a rock.

When the hour was over, I walked around for a few minutes, drank some more ayahuasca and then sat for another hour.

This time I was able to carefully study the body as the active ingredient in the ayahuasca, DMT, worked its way into my brain and around my body. It is a little bit hard to explain, but at least three things were going on at the same time. The first gigantic hit of ayahuasca was still working its way through my body, and, at the same time, the second hit was also working its way through the system causing incredible rainbow visions. Then there was the meditation. In this style of meditation the theory is that in any discomfort or tenseness in the body is some kind of manifestation of negative energy. So if one is free of all negativity, one can sit comfortably hour after hour with very little bodily pain and supposedly that is what the real meditation masters do. Unfortunately I'm not a real meditation master so halfway through the second hour my knees felt like someone had just clobbered them with a sledgehammer. At times like this one is supposed to study the pain with a detached view, with what the Buddha called mindfulness. I had a lot to study. One of my teachers has a theory that pain makes concentration easier because with pain you have something very defined to focus on. It that is true, I was very, very focused.

When the second hour finished and I stood up, I felt like I'd just gotten out of the dentist's chair where I had had my front teeth removed without anesthesia. In the Buddhist world there are people who say that sitting like that is not "the middle way." While others say that it's the fastest way to push through hidden subconscious negativities. Like everything in life, from sex to nutrition to religion, no matter what you do, someone will say that either you're wasting your time, you're crazy, or that if only you would do it a little bit differently you would be doing it correctly. So it goes. People only do what they think is right for them and no one sees the whole picture.

By this time it was dark and many people had already left the session.

People were quietly talking. One woman had brought her baby and a crib―people were passing around the baby.

Dacio had taken a mat and put it out in front of the hut from where he could gaze up the valley. He asked me to repeat part of a story that I told him last week. Here it is . . . .

The sacred mountain of Tibet, Mt Kailash, takes three days to walk around. It is only 32 kilometers, but the path has all kinds of ups and downs, involves some boulder-jumping, stream crossings, and in the middle of the trek is a whooper of a pass to cross. If that isn't enough, the air is so thin that lots of people who aren't acclimated drop dead when they start walking. There is always snow on the higher elevations, but at certain times of the year the path itself is free of snow. Nevertheless, the area around Mt Kailash is always, especially at night, cold.

gate

For the first eight hours or so of the walk you can't see the mountain because you're in a steep valley. But then you round a bend and suddenly the mountain, shaped like a perfect pyramid, looms down at you. The Tibetans have built a gate just before the mountain comes into view for pilgrims to walk through and be spiritually reborn before they see the mountain. Supposedly it's a good idea to cut some hair off as one enters the gate to symbolize rebirth.

kailash

I followed directions, rounded the bend, and like everyone else, was overwhelmed by my first close up view of the holy mountain. The Tibetans were bowing to the mountain. I got caught up in the moment and started bowing as well. It was, for everyone there, only five people, a bonding moment.

A minute later though everyone was back on the trail and walking at their own pace. I always tried to walk alone so I lagged a bit behind everyone else and enjoyed the view. Around the next bend was an incredible sight: two people were prostrating around the mountain.

prostrator

Here is how you do one prostration: you stand up, raise your hands above your head with your palms pressed together, and then bring your hands down, in the prayer position, to your forehead, mouth, and heart to symbolize inner cleansing. Saying a prayer or a mantra as you do this is a good idea. Then you stretch out flat on the ground and reach as far in front of you as you can. At that point you can dedicate any merit that you might have gained so far to all sentient beings. Then you stand up, walk to the place on the ground where your hands have just touched the earth, and do it again.

Supposedly it takes two weeks to prostrate around Kailash and they say that by doing it, one gains incredible spiritual merit.

Merit or not, prostrating around Mt Kailash is not for ordinary human beings. Only saints and super-men and super-women can do it. Very few Westerners have done it. Many more Westerners have tried and failed.

So there they were, the living Buddhas, traveling like inch-worms around the mountain. From a distance, with my telephoto lens, I took a picture. The prostrator closest to me was a woman with her hair tied back in a thick knot. In front of her was a man. I walked on. As I got closer I took out a hiker's energy bar to offer it as a donation to the first prostrator, the woman. Just when I had the bar in my hand, she must have heard my footsteps on the loose gravel and turned slightly to see who it was.

Our eyes met. She was about 18 and had an incredibly beautiful and serene face. She was radiating peace and tranquility. If I had a picture of her face, that picture would be hanging on my wall and I'd look at it every day for the rest of my life for comfort and inspiration. I handed her the energy bar. She nodded in appreciation, and put the bar inside her coat.

If the gate that I had walked through a few minutes earlier was going to cause me to be reborn, I was off to a good start.

The ayahuasca camp is an hour or so by car from where I'm staying, the beach resort of Frances. Earlier in the day I had taken a bus to the town of Maceio and then friends had taken me the rest of the way. To get back to Frances, it was decided that I should ride on the back of the motorcycle of the only other person there from Frances, Helder.

I was still as high as a kite, but somehow I managed to get on the back of his bike. Fortunately Helder is a very good driver so the only thing I had to worry about was falling off. As we traveled, the one-hour ride through the warm tropical Brazilian night took on a surreal quality. We were riding through all of humanity and the world. We started off in the countryside on a dirt road where most of the vehicles were either horses or being pulled by horses. After 15 minutes, we left the bush and traveled the rest of the way on a paved road. There were families out for a stroll, lovers passionately kissing in a darkened doorway, two garishly dressed prostitutes standing under a street light, shopping centers, a traffic jam, one sex shop, people drinking beer and playing cards just outside their houses, two love hotels, a cemetery getting ready to honor the deaths of poor people, a long sandy beach, jungle, sugar cane fields, and a man lying in the middle of the road waiting for an ambulance. He was about my age with blood coming out of his head. Fortunately the ambulance was just a few hundred meters down the road. Helder guessed that he man had been drinking.

By the end of the hour I was back on earth and happy to get off the motorcycle. I had made it.

arrow to table of conentsWednesday March 12, three days later

Every night just before sunset I've been jogging on the beach. It's very pleasant — by that time of the day there are usually just a few tourists and fishermen on the beach.

Last night I jogged past a group of people who were standing on the edge of the beach watching what I assumed was a a street performer. Perhaps a juggler had come to town or someone was giving a lecture on the finer points of surfing. I ran past the crowd, but on my way back I decided to check out the excitement. As I got closer I saw that the crowd was standing around a body— a man had just been shot and killed. Two policemen were already on the scene and using beach furniture to set up a police line.

The dead man was about 25 and wearing shorts and a T-shirt. It was easy to know what had happened. The kid had been in the thick forest scrub that grows just off the beach where the sand ends. Sensing danger he had run to the beach thinking that once he reached the public area no one would dare shoot him. Unfortunately, just as he left the tangle of trees and tall grass, a bullet hit him in the middle of the back and he died instantly— falling head-first a meter or so onto the beach. He still lay flailed on the ground face down with his arms stretched out ahead of him. His T-shirt had a small stain of blood on it.

About half the people in the crowd were children.

Soon a police hospital van reached the scene. Two medics wearing face masks and rubber gloves shined a light in the man's eyes to make sure he was dead. They then covered him with a plastic sheet. It was getting dark and the crowd dispersed.

No one had shown any emotion. People were just curious.

It turns out that in the last few months there has been an epidemic of crack cocaine in this picturesque little beach resort. Apparently the dead man was selling it and not paying back his distributor.

Someone else told me that possibly the police themselves had engineered the man's death. Since the start of the crack cocaine epidemic robberies have increased and the police wanted to send a message to the young people of Frances—if you play with fire, you will get burned.

arrow to table of conentsFriday, March 13

Yesterday the local ayahuasca master, Andre, invited Dacio, an Italian woman, Claudia, who came here earlier in the week, and me to drink with him. He said that he would give us “the father of ayahuasca.”

tom
The author takes his medicine.

With just six people—including the two Indian caretakers—under the thatch hut in the middle of the day, things were eerily quiet. Dispensing, for the first time since I've known him, without any ritual, Andre gave us each two spoonfuls of the thick black honey. The taste was totally revolting, but we all got it down even if by looking at any one of us you would have thought we had just drank cyanide. After my face returned to normal, even though I still had the awful taste in my mouth, I decided that I would sit in meditation for an hour. Everyone else opted to take the prone position.

This time, like the last, meditating in full lotus was about like wrestling with an alligator. From somewhere I heard a voice saying, “This guy does not get it—in this tradition we lay down.” But I stuck with it.

I met some of the same people I had met last year. These included the captain of an airlplane that has a single propeller mounted in the front. He takes his job very seriously and always wears a jacket and tie. The captain and his crew wanted me to know that they were at my service and ready to take me anywhere I wanted to go. I said hello to everyone, but I didn't particularly want to go anywhere with them. Later perhaps we could fly somewhere together, but not today. Besides, really, how stupid did they think I was? Why would I get in an airplane with people who looked like cartoon characters?

After an hour, I had had enough of sitting. Soon Dacio and Claudia started playing guitar and singing while Andre played a drum. I walked around for a while, but then, unlike everyone else, decided to have one more spoonful of ayahuasca. This time I had no intention of sitting again, but a few minutes later I was walking aimlessly when I spotted on a small table that the Indians had set up to wash their dishes on. It was about a meter off the ground and tilted down the hill enough to allow the water to drain away.

I thought I would rest there for just a minute, but I was instantly so comfortable, that I decided to sit right there for another meditation period.

andre
Andre eating honey.

I was certain that nothing dramatic was going to happen. The strength of my sitting was such that I could simply sit back and watch whatever was happening. But suddenly I had the sensation that I was dying. This, I thought, is interesting. Death, the end of everything, was just a breath away. Normally I might have been apprehensive about something like this, but mother ayahuasca gently put her hand on my cheek and told me that everything was going to be all right. She would, she said, watch out for me. I relaxed into the experience. In death, just like I read somewhere, the soul leaves the body at the top of the head and you are able to look down and see yourself being left behind. Interesting stuff. A few minutes later though the reverse, in a similarly dramatic fashion, happened. I was re-born in that I felt the life force re-enter the body. When that happened there was the sensation of getting a new brain, as if some deep inner cleansing had just happened.

I only write what happens.

hut
Looking from the valley to the hut.

When I stopped sitting, Andre saw me walking around and decided that he would take everyone for a walk to the far end of the valley. I wondered if my feet would function, but somehow they did. Indeed, walking the length of the valley, filled with birds, insects, a snake, and many views of the rolling hills was a very pleasant way to re-enter a more normal state of consciousness.

Later Claudia, told me some stories, one of which I had heard last year from the Brazilian woman she had traveled with. A few years ago they were participating in an ayahuasca ritual in Brasilia when they met the spokesperson from a remote Indian tribe. He invited them to the festival that his tribe has once a year, the only time that they allow visitors. At that time they drink for an entire week. Claudia was sure that this would be the ultimate ayahuasca experience. However, she got a shock when she got there, after a long and dramatic journey, and learned that the drink of the festival was alcohol, not ayahuasca. So she she stayed drunk for three days. After the fiesta, however, there was indeed an ayahuasca session. The ayahuasca, she said was pretty weak, but that was all the Indians needed to find their way into another dimension.

indian
The Indian caretaker.

The Indians have there own creation story. Once God, the story goes, lived among people giving them advice and taking care of them. But eventually God got tired of being the ultimate caregiver, so he found some hummingbirds to take him to another dimension. The people pleaded with him not to go—how could they live without God? God heard their pleas and had mercy upon them. He proceeded to take ten men and ten women and turn them into the male and female aspects of ayahuasca, the two plants that make up the tea.

* * * * *

In my daily meditation practice, with a new brain, I've felt the same emotional release that one might feel after a long cry and now, as happens from time to time in the life of any meditator, I can see the truth in what Dogen, the man who brought Soto Zen from China to Japan, meant when he said that there is a certain joy to be felt from simply sitting in full or half lotus, high on a pillow, and watching one's breathing at the abdomen. At times, simply breathing and knowing that one is breathing, is ecstasy.

arrow to table of conentsSunday, March 16 Oh, mama, can this really be the end . . .

As last night's session began I wondered what possibly could happen. Hasn't everything possible already happened?

There were about 40 people assembled under the thatch umbrella by 8 PM when the ceremony began. Andre gave everyone there, except one woman, Dacio's mother, and one man, the same ayahuasca tea. Dacio's mother was given honey and the man was given plain water.

I was sure that this would be easy. Hadn't I very successfully just drank the vodka of ayahuasca, mel, and come out of it smiling? My guess was that with this beer-like-tea I would have a pleasant hour of meditation and then I would blissfully listen to music for the rest of the evening.

I couldn't have been more wrong.

If you want to get some idea of what it was like, sit in a comfortable chair with your bare feet touching wet ground. Next turn on about 100 industrial strength blinking Christmas tree lights a few meters in front of you. Immediately behind the Christmas lights place a few of the flashing lights that police cruisers and ambulances use at the scene of an accident. Next hold one end of a piece of copper wire in each hand. Finally turn on the police sirens so that they scream full-blast and then plug the wires into an electric socket. Please remember, DO NOT MOVE. Naturally, there will be an element of discomfort as the electricity pulses through your body and the sirens ring in your ears. But never mind. Stay with the sensations as long as you can. When you can't stand it any more, you can get up.

Whew.

I stood up. A few people had already left the thatch hut to go outside and vomit. The sound they made was totally revolting. Everyone else sat like a statue while music that was perfectly attuned to what was happening with the ayahuasca was playing from the very high quality sound system that someone had in their car. The car had been backed into the hut.

It was a beautiful moon-light night. A few clouds moved in the sky. I looked up the dark valley—birds and insects were chirping and singing away. My overwhelming sense of disorientation almost hurled me to the ground. If I hit the ground I knew that the earth would spin so violently that I would have the feeling I was riding a bizarre carnival ride while drunk. It was only with the greatest difficulty that I paced up and down. I looked at my shadow in the moonlight and was soon overtaken by maddening hallucinations of the black outline of my body on the ground. Looking up at the clouds, bizarre faces looked down at me. One cloud in particular looked like Alice in Wonderland's Mad Hatter. I looked at the trees and people were moving in them. The only thing I could do was vaguely focus on the horizon as I paced back and forth in the dust.

Soon I had to vomit. Not wanting to soil the path that I was walking on, I found two fence posts, about a meter apart, steadied myself between them and retched. If there had been anyone sleeping in the valley beyond, they were now awake. The sound of my retching was a lion's roar that felt like it had just ripped out my vocal cords. I tried to rest while holding onto the fence posts, but I immediately became so dizzy and disoriented that I was sure I would collapse. I kept pacing.

Speech or any kind of communication was impossible. I tried studying the body to calm it, but when I did, huge violent balls of white hot lava shot through my veins.

I took off my sandals and walked barefoot. Studying where and when the feet touched the earth was somehow bearable and slightly comforting.

I wondered if I had ever felt worse in my life. I probably had once last year when I collapsed with violent vomiting and then couldn't breathe. But this was almost as bad. I knew from my training as a Buddhist meditator that the best thing to do was to stand back and watch the process. If one gets caught up in the drama of something like this, it just becomes worse. Nevertheless watching what was happening mindfully was a Herculean effort and there was no denying that this was a hell realm.

I was sure that things could not get any worse, but they did. The next time I needed to retch I realized that my arms were now virtually useless—they could no longer support me if I held onto the fence posts. So I simply stood at the side of the path and violently retched. One of the long-time ayahuasca drinkers heard me vomiting and wondered if anyone could survive such a horrible bodily purge. He came out to see how I was. “Water,” I whispered.

He somehow found a glass of water. I rinsed with it. Swallowing even a little was impossible.

This, I thought, would be a terrible way to die. Who would want to leave the world in pain, confusion, and disorientation? I had always thought that I'd like to simply countdown my breaths and heartbeats until the body stopped breathing and, for lack of a better term, the soul left the body. But dying like this would be terrible beyond belief. I wondered how my mother had died. Was she calmly following her breathing and heartbeat until they stopped? Or did the drugs and bodily deterioration stop all thinking and awareness in the way that a deep sleep can. I could only hope that she had a peaceful death. If I fell down and hit my head, I certainly would not.

I kept pacing back and forth. After more than an hour the body demanded that I collapse, but that was unthinkable. To collapse would be to free-fall through black space not knowing which way was up. My mouth became parched. A few times I tried to stop and collect my thoughts, but the hallucinations were maddening. Fortunately, very fortunately, the body was in so much discomfort that thoughts were out of the question.

The ceremony inside the hut continued. I knew that eventually the ayahuasca would work its way out of the body, but I couldn't know when. Walking, dry heaves, walking, clouds moving in the sky, hallucinations . . .

Memories started to appear. When I was in my early thirties my career in the world of international education stopped for me, but not for the people I was working with. What was wrong? Everything seemed be wrong and life was unfair. At the time I was living with a very pretty Japanese woman. As I failed in the world outside, I also failed in my relationship to her. In the end she felt that she had no choice but to leave the country where we were working and go to another education program in another part of the world. I had the good sense to continue my meditation practice and eventually came to understand where real happiness could be found.

Unfortunately the Japanese woman did not. By chance I met her 20 years later. Her beauty was gone. Her posture had collapsed and she felt bitter about her life. I urged her to do yoga and meditation, but I couldn't get through. Since then she has refused any communication with me.

I thought of her now, as I paced back and forth. Could she ever forgive me? Could she ever understand that I was a victim of my own circumstances? Like a man going to the electric chair who asks the family of his victims for forgiveness, I asked her for forgiveness and likewise I forgave her—at the time her career was failing as well. She wasn't always easy or pleasant to be around.

Life I saw, was like that. We are pushed around by things beyond our control and react to them in ways that are not always wise.

The mind started reflecting on other relationships. Soon, I saw that a tremendous mental purge was going on as my humanity and the humanity of the people I had known came sharply and painfully into focus. Gosh, but life can be a lot to handle. We need to give each other a lot of space.

Meanwhile, the moon was setting.

I was the only person who missed almost all of the ceremony inside the hut, but throughout the long night different men and women walked from inside the gas-lit hut out into the moonlight to vomit or wander off into the bushes to relieve themselves. Most people, however, unbelievable to me, sat silently through the entire ceremony.

The ceremony finally ended about mid-night. When it did, all but four chairs were stacked up neatly to the side, leaving just Andre and the three guitar players sitting in the middle of the hut. Around them in a large circle, with men on one side and women on the other, very simple line dancing started while the dancers sang the beautifully rhythmic ayahuasca hymns.

By two or three in the morning I was calm enough to sit in a chair outside the hut. Ten or so people were collapsed helter-skelter on mats around me. One woman walked out and, standing where I had been walking a few hours before, vomited more than I had thought possible. As she wretched, she sounded like someone was pouring water out of a bucket.

on the beach
Dacio meditates on surfing while Claudia blisses out.

We stayed there until just before sunrise. Then Dacio drove the other person in this guest house, Claudia, and me back here to Frances. He brought his surfboard and, amazing as it seems, went surfing. Also, amazing as it seems, I went along to have a look. Finally, at 10 in the morning, I laid down. But I couldn't sleep.

Thirty minutes later, I got up, sat in meditation for an hour, and then wrote what you've just read.

arrow to table of conentsMarch 21 - Magic on a Rainy Day and Metta

I have asked a few people why I had such a difficult time on Saturday night. Andre said that I needed a spiritual and medical cleansing which the plant provided. It was also very possible, he said, that I was effected by the power of the group. I had been, he said, with people who were very concentrated and the energy of the group had cleansed me.

Who knows for sure?

On Sunday afternoon I wrote the Japanese woman who worked with me in the education program. I tried to tell her something comforting. The e-mail didn't bounce back, but she didn't respond.

indian couple
The Indian caretakers.

Anyway, yesterday just after noon, after having been away for five days, there I was again in the thatch hut with Claudia, Andre, and Dacio. It just after noon on a cloudy and rainy day. The ground outside the hut had turned to mud, while inside there were puddles on the earthen floor. The two Indians as always were calmly and expressionlessly watching everything. The female caretaker knows that I think that she's beautiful and always smiles when we meet.

Dacio, Claudia, and I set some grass mats on the ground, Andre strung up his hammock and prepared a table in the middle of the hut.

With everyone settled in, Andre poured the honey into a shot class, filling half of it. The black-sludge-like ayahuasca was so thick that it almost refused to pour. I was shocked—how, I thought, could anyone possibly drink that much? At that instant Dacio, Claudia, and I all turned away in disgust in the same way that people would turn away from a coffin that had just been opened to reveal a horribly mutilated corpse. Just to see that much ayahuasca was repulsive. But then, to my disbelief and shock, Dacio drank it. How, I wondered, could anyone do that? What was going to happen to him?

He gagged, turned red, and tears came to his eyes as he swallowed the disgusting sludge. When my turn came I asked Andre to get a spoon. He somehow found one and poured the black sludge onto it. I put it into my mouth, but swallowing it took a monumental effort—the body wanted to gag, to spit it out. I counted to ten and, with a huge swallow, forced it down.

Claudia vomited a few minutes after she drank the sludge—her body just wouldn't handle it. Andre offered her more, but she declined.

Once again I vowed to sit in full lotus for an hour and once again I had the sensation that I was wrestling with an alligator while blinded by a psychedelic light show. To my great relief no one was playing any music. After a very long hour, I stood up.

I was hallucinating and I could barely walk, but compared to last week, I was doing pretty well. The hills looked like someone had dramatically saturated them with colors that kept changing. In one of the trees were a thousand monkey-like faces looking at me. I walked around for a few minutes doing cat-like stretches and then Andre asked me to sit down near to where he and Dacio were sitting. He was going to sing a prayer. Last week I stayed far away when he was singing—it was simply too intense to handle. Now, however, I was trapped.

I closed my eyes and immediately saw a violent and awe-inspiring kaleidoscopic light show. This is, I thought, why I don't like to sit near Andre while he is praying. Hold on, be steady, I thought, he usually doesn't sing for very long. Just observe. I tried just to observe, without getting involved. Just then to the side of the kaleidoscope, on both sides, I saw that two women were watching me. What, I thought, are they doing here? They knew. They had come to offer me a blessing. The two women were, well, angels. The proceeded to sprinkle me with flower pedals. What was that about?

Naturally, I don't believe in magic, angels, or any mumbo-jumbo, but that's what happened. It happens, I write it. If it doesn't happen, I don't write it. Are we clear on that?

When he finished singing I turned around to Andre. “Magic?” I asked. He nodded. Dacio was right there. I looked at him, “He just did something, didn't he?” Dacio nodded. Later Dacio told me that just then I looked 18.

Now what was I going to do? I decided to walk down into the mist-filled valley. As I walked, a tremendous sense of clarity and openness came over me. And why not? With nothing better to do, I decided to do a Buddhist meditation practice called metta. The complete metta practice involves a few lengthily steps, all of which I had done, without thinking about it, over the last few weeks. So now I could skip the boring parts and go directly to the last step, the one that is, well, the most fun.

It works something like this: the Buddha outlined four states or kinds of happiness: loving kindness, sympathetic joy, compassion, and equanimity. The meditation involves wishing each of these to everyone and everything in the universe. It can be a little tricky if you find people whom you wished would accidentally drink rat poison. But if you are in a good mood or you have just been blessed by angles, it can be ecstatic. To do it you need to split open your heart and let it spill out in all directions as you mentally repeat things like this -

May all beings be free from enmity.
May all beings be free from ill treatment.
May all beings be free from troubles.
May all beings be free from suffering.
May all beings be happy.
Whatever beings there may be, weak or strong, without exception, long, large, middling, short, seen & unseen, near & far, born & seeking birth: May all beings be happy at heart.

As a mother would risk her life to protect her child, her only child, even so may everyone cultivate a limitless heart with regard to all beings. With good will for the entire cosmos, may we share our merit with boundless, and limitless compassion and universal love.

Above, below, and all around, unobstructed, without enmity or hate. Whether standing, walking, sitting, or lying down, may all beings be filled with infinite loving kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy and equanimity.

May all beings on the planet be free from suffering. May they be free from pain, grief, and despair. May they be happy, truly happy. May they be at peace. May all beings in the universe be free from suffering. May all beings in all universes, everywhere, be free from suffering. May they be well and happy.

May they be at peace. May all beings of all kinds, in all directions, be happy and at peace. Above and below, Near and far, High and low. All types of beings. Humans and non-humans. Seen and unseen. All the animals, birds, and fish. All beings and creatures, With no exceptions. May they all be happy. May they be free.

Metta practice might sound like something that air-heads do, but it is a core practice of the southern school of Buddhism and parts of it are sneaking into the northern school or they were already there, if you believe in the Boddhisatva vow, all along. To do it correctly you need a lot of concentration and effort.

playing music
Andre and Dacio play music.

Eventually I wandered back to the hut where everyone was playing guitar and singing. I asked Andre for some more ayahuasca, sat again, and then did more metta practice.

As I sat, I thought about what really happened the night the Buddha became enlightened. It went something like this.

He sat all night, during which time he figured out the four noble truths, the eightfold path, and the law of dependent origination. This was about like building an atomic bomb in your basement.

Then, as dawn broke, he peeled away the last remnants of ego and desire. This did not go unnoticed by the spirits of the universe. They, in fact, were totally amazed. At last someone, born a human, had broken through all the limits of a human birth. More than a little curious, all kinds of celestial creatures came to have a look. It was a little like Andre's magic, but, of course, by magnitudes more powerful. The story goes that the Buddha was surrounded by many of the most auspicious beings in the universe. As the Buddha sat there, the negative energies of the universe also stopped by to check out what was happening. Some people say that those negative forces sent naked dancing girls (no doubt from Bangkok) to the Buddha to try to distract him. The Buddha observed all of this and was not moved one way or another. Finally the great powers of the universe asked Buddha for some kind of proof that he had actually made it. The story goes that the Buddha touched the earth with one finger and indicated that the earth itself was witness to what he had done. It was a good call for Buddha.

We left the jungle hut at dusk. We were all hungry, so twenty minutes later we stopped at the beach in Maceio for dinner. It was about like being in Waikiki in Hawaii. As we ate the incredibly delicious Amazonian sweet called acai, Dacio decided to tell us his life story.

After fourteen years, his marriage fell apart and he fell into an excess of marijuana, alcohol, and amphetamines. Eventually he developed a stomach ulcer and all kinds of other complications including distancing himself from his family. Three years ago he found himself at one of Andre's sessions. He liked it. The next time he drank ayahuasca, one week later, he had a vision. In the vision his brother came to him and outlined a series of things Dacio had to do to re-establish ties with his family. Over the next few weeks Dacio followed all of those steps and was re-united with his family. After that Dacio's life totally turned around. By coincidence. just today he had spent all of his life's savings to become one of nine partners in the land we had just come from.


google searchSome of the people here are fascinated by my stories from Tibet and India. After I described seeing the young woman prostrating around Mount Kailash, Dacio said that he wanted to try prostrations. So yesterday, he and I did 100 full prostrations together. Just before that I did a Google search of "Tibetan Full Prostrations" to refresh my memory. I got a shock when the first page that came up in the search was mine.

After the prostrations, while covered in sweat, I did more metta practice. Huge tears came to my eyes. The ayahuasca is bringing out my sentimental side.

arrow to table of conentsSunday, March 25 -- Bliss in the jungle

The 11 traditional Benefits of Metta Practice

(1) Good sleep,

(2) Wake up happily,

(3) No nightmares,

(4) Friends,

(5) "One is adored by non-human beings." This means your neighbor's dog.

(6) Deities protect him,

(7) Fire, poison and any kind of weapons cannot harm him. (In Thailand they expand this to say that snakes won't bite you.),

(8) Serene face,

(9) Good concentration,

(10) One dies undeluded,

(11) Rebirth in a good place.

Everyone here says that they never know what is going to happen when they take the ayahuasca That's for god-dammed sure.

Last night, two hours after dark about thirty of us met in the jungle hut to drink ayahuasca (not honey). Naturally, I was incredibly nervous. The very last thing I wanted was a repeat of last Saturday.

I asked Andre to give me just half a glass. He wasn't too happy about that, but by the look on my face he knew I was scared. In these formal ceremonies he tries to make things as dramatic as possible – everyone gets a glass, we all say a prayer together, drink together, sit in silence, and listen to music.

As I sat, I felt like a panther in the middle of a dark jungle – all senses alert, looking for movement. Meanwhile the music, unlike last week, was very relaxing. So relaxing that, I, er, ah, fell asleep. WTF? I stood up, interrupted Andre, and took a second glass. This time I didn't fall asleep. In a few minutes I had the feeling that I was on a beach getting a sun tan, only the sun was shooting down healing red, blue, and green beams of light that were warming and massaging my body. So, I realized, this is why the Brazilians love ayahuasca It can be fantastically soothing. But now what?

I didn't have to wait long. Perhaps because Easter Sunday would begin in a few hours, Andre played a Portuguese sermon about a hippie named Jesus and the power of positive thinking. The man delivering the sermon had a speaking voice like Michael Jackson's. Give me a break! I walked outside into a brilliant full moon that was half way between the horizon at the far end of the valley and the top of the heavens. If that wasn't enough, the clouds between the moon and horizon had arranged themselves into a perfect thunderbird. This did not go unnoticed by the creatures of the night—the birds, unusually so, never stopped chirping and singing. I stood facing up the valley and fell deeply into metta meditation and incredible ecstasy. I was Peter Pan's Tinkerbell sprinkling healing fairy dust all over the world.

Gradually though I realized that skipping the first few steps of metta practice was about like having sex with a stranger with no foreplay. It was fun, but something was missing. So, with a few hours to kill, I went back and did the entire practice from start to finish.

I'll briefly describe metta practice here. If it seems boring, trite and impossible that's because your concentration isn't very good—you've got too much going on in your life. (Actually, in the Buddhist meditation world lots of people feel that way—they want dramatic experiences and not something as difficult as metta practice. A monk in Thailand told me that he spent years doing intensive concentration practice when in retrospect he would have been better off doing metta practice.)

To get more concentration, consider dropping your cell phone into a goldfish bowel and then shooting your television. Forget this 24/7 production crap – the people who sell that soap have the lives of hamsters. Spend as much time as you can out doors. Watch the day turn into night, the seasons change, stuff like that. This isn't rocket science; this is life. You'll be dead soon, a few years after that no one will remember your name. Strangers will include everyone alive. They will occasionally see your name on a tombstone or in a list that is lingering on the Internet and they won't give a hoot. Life's that way. Fasten your seatbelt, here we go.

Begin. Get a grip. Stand up straight or sit up straight or somehow be attentive. Find your heartbeat. Your consciousness and your life force is trapped, for a while at least, in the body you were given. Find it.

The metta practice begins with you. In your heart the idea is that you see that no one deserves your love and caring more than you do. (Which is extremely profound and not what society tells you at all.)

May I be peaceful. May I be happy. May I be free of all negative and self-destructive emotions. May I be free of suffering.

If you don't love yourself then things look pretty bad for loving anyone else. Plus you gotta figure that people who don't love themselves do all kinds of damage to themselves and others.

Traditionally one then moves the practice to someone who has been generous and loving to you or to the person you love the most. It can be, if all else fails, your dog. Usually it isn't much of a struggle to reflect kindly on someone you love a lot. It can be a teacher, a friend, a parent, any one. Some say that it helps if that person is alive. Pull that person into your heart and reflect on how much you love them. Lots of people do this without calling it metta.

Then pull someone into the same emotional state whom you feel neutral about. Get it? Open up the heart to include the mailman or the kid at the Seven-Eleven store.

Next comes someone whom you have a problem with. This means you start shining the same light on the person you regard as your enemy as you shined on your loved one. Damn. This can be a rough spot.

After you cross that bridge, you can begin to include in your loving thoughts all kinds of people. Often people start with their family and friends and work out from there. In Buddhist chants and literature it can get very airy, but if you hear that stuff long enough you start to like it.

May all those that breathe life in the eastern direction above be free from hostility, free from affliction, free from distress; may they live happily.

This can go on and on in all kinds of directions and spaces.

May all beings be free from hostility, free from affliction, free from distress; may they live happily.

May all those that breathe be free from hostility, free from affliction, free from distress; may they live happily.

May all creatures be free from hostility, free from affliction. free from distress; may they live happily.

May all those with individual existence be free from hostility, free from affliction, free from distress; may they live happily.

May all those who are embodied be free from hostility, free from affliction, free from distress; may they live happily.

Let no one deceive another nor despise anyone anywhere. Neither in anger nor ill-will should anyone wish harm to another. As a mother would risk her own life to protect her only child even so towards all living beings may I cultivate a boundless heart. Whether standing, sitting, walking or lying down may I cultivate this mindfulness.

And so, I passed a few hours of ecstasy. When things started to calm down, I drank some more ayahuasca and gave it another go.

We got back to this deteriorating guest house just as the sun was rising.

The next time I drink ayahuasca I could very likely have visions of being a soldier in Iraq or of being burned alive, but on Easter Sunday morning in the middle of the jungle, I got a glimpse of what the enlightened mind is capable of.

surfer girl
The beach a few hundred meters from my guesthouse.

arrow to table of conentsFriday March, 28 Death and rebirth on the high seas

Andre and Dacio came here late in the morning and invited me and the two tourists, Claudia and her boyfriend, to join them on an ayahuasca picnic. The plan was that we would drive for a few hours to where the second biggest river in Brazil, the San Francisco, meets the ocean. There we would drink the ayahuasca. It sounded good so far.

We all crowded into Andre's little car. Claudia and her boyfriend are both average Westerners, so we were like sardines in the back seat. I settled into watching the beautiful Brazilian countryside out the window and listening to Andre's music. Things were still good.

Things started to get bad after about 20 minutes when Andre pulled the car off the road, and announced that we were going to drink the ayahuasca right then. He had one small plastic cup which he filled with the black-sludge that he calls honey, mel. When Dacio saw it he gagged, but then he, like the rest of us, drank it. The taste was revolting. We tried chewing gum for a while, but the sickening taste lingered on.

Immediately, I realized that, for once, Andre had really screwed up. We were all soon going to be on Mars at which time we would want to stretch, walk around, lay down, vomit, and everything else that Martians do, but we couldn't because we were in a car traveling down a busy road at almost the speed of light.

Soon I started seeing all kinds of faces in the clouds and trees which were passing by at the speed of light. I closed my eyes. As the DMT circulated through my body I saw the usual incredibly colorful lines and paintings. There was a psychedelic circus in my head. Meanwhile I started to feel nauseous— every turn felt like a roller coaster's vomit-comet and the person sitting next to me, Claudia, started having a very difficult time. She looked like she was re-living every nightmare she'd ever had in her life. And she has had a few. Six years ago she was walking at night with her boyfriend in the Philippines when a man jumped out of the bushes, stabbed to death her boyfriend, and slashed Claudia's arm.

Now Claudia was crying. She asked me to move so that I didn't touch her. I tried to move, but with three people in the back seat of a tiny car there wasn't any place to move to. Meanwhile Andre was flawlessly driving down the road, the music was blaring, and no one was speaking.

If only Andre would stop the car, if only we were at the beach, if only he would have waited to serve the honey . . . My mind ran through all the possibilities until it settled on a final possibility: there is no other possibility—this is the way it is. There is no moment, but now. Get used to it. Meanwhile I was aware of every muscle, every vein, and every capillary in my body; I could see and feel them!

Just when we absolutely couldn't stand it any longer, Andre stopped the car along the side of the busy road and let everyone out. Good thinking. We were birds released from a small cage. The sun was blaring down, but no one cared. Claudia walked away. I went into the middle of a large field and did the same Tibetan yoga that I had taught Dacio last week. What happened next was, as they say, other worldly. I could try to tell you what happened in terms of a chemical reaction, “runners high” etc. But instead I will just tell you what happened.

In this Tibetan practice you call upon all the positive forces of the universe to help you in your own liberation and the liberation of everyone else. At the same time you try to share any goodness you receive from the practice with all sentient beings. It helps if you repeat a certain mantra as you do it. I put my heart and concentration into it. Almost immediately I had the sensation that the heavens were opening up and shooting down streams of blessings. It was as dramatic as getting hit by a rogue wave at sea. Whoosh! I felt my heart open up and send waves of healing energy through my body. That was a surprise.

When we got back in the car, the waves of energy didn't stop.

I felt the top of my head and my heart open up and fill, virtually explode, with some kind of celestial blessings. The blessings rippled through me like waves from a rock thrown into a still pond.

After a while I grew a little weary of all of the celestial blessing. “Stop it, enough already!” I said.

“We wish you well! Good luck! You're doing fine!” a voice from somewhere said.

Reflecting on it now, it's embarrassing to write, but that's what happened. It is clear to me now why so many of these ayahuasca masters feel that they are talking to God. Something happens and it can seem very real.

Meanwhile Claudia was still having a very difficult time. I asked Andre to stop the car and let her sit in the front. Eventually he did, but she didn't calm down. What to do? Andre stopped the car and sang a prayer—he was using everything he had to bring about a change. I felt soothing waves of healing energy fill the car. When he finished singing, he started the car and drove silently on. When he sensed that everyone needed a bit more, he sang a calming chant that sounded a bit like a lullaby. Again, it was exactly what was needed.

How, I wondered, is he doing that? He drank as much as everyone else. How is he driving this car and singing with such clarity? Once he rolled down the window to shout, and a few times I heard him take a deep breath to steady himself, but there was never any hesitation.

Finally, two hours after leaving Frances, we arrived at the San Francisco River and the fishing village on the river's delta. This wasn't a beach resort filled with girls in tiny bikinis. This was a poor fishing village. A woman was washing her clothes in the river in the middle of town when we pulled in. The only thing I wanted to do was sit down in a quiet place. Andre took me into a dark hall. Where the hell am I? It looked like we were in a karaoke bar and that Andre was going to rent a room—we were going to spend the rest of the afternoon singing karaoke! Why the hell are we going to sing karaoke in a poor fishing village? Damn!

It took me a few minutes to realize that in fact we were in a tour agency and we were buying tickets to take a boat ride down the river to the delta.

This, I thought, is the very last God-damned thing I want to do, but I got on the boat and off we went.

Our boat could seat about twenty people so it was just a bit smaller than the boats that I traveled in and hated when I lived in the South Pacific. A thousand memories from my five years in the South Pacific came back to me – like the time I decided to hitch a ride with a bunch of guys on a copra boat from the northern Tongan Islands to Samoa. On the way back, just 200 miles of open ocean, we got lost. “Lost, don't say we're lost,” I told them. “Sorry, we're lost.” We were lost, it was the middle of the night, and we couldn't see a thing. In the morning, thank God, they saw some distant clouds and decided that an island must be under them. It turned out they were right and I lived to tell the tale. Still, those guys were hopeless sailors. I can never forgive them.

So there I was, on the San Francisco River, in a little boat headed out to sea, I could barely walk, but I was not able to speak. I was going somewhere, but I didn't know where.

dacio fisherman
The view from the boat.

The scenery was breathtaking. We were in a paradise of blue skies, coconut trees, beaches, and distant horizons.

After most of an hour we reached an island where we were able to, finally, stand on solid ground and relax. We were space-shuttle astronauts setting foot on earth again after six months in orbit. Meanwhile the ayahuasca was, as is often the case, working to heal the body. I have old knee and shoulder injuries that were acting up again, causing me some pain, as the ayahuasca worked on fixing them. Nevertheless, the simple act of walking on solid ground was ecstatic. Now all of us were very grateful to Andre for arranging to put us through purgatory so that we could enter heaven. He, we all concluded, had known what he was doing all along.

The lightning-bolts of, for lack of a better word, celestial blessings had not stopped during the boat ride and even when we were on the island. However, when the novelty wore off I wondered what I should do. At times like this lots of people in Brazil play music or listen to their MP3 player. I decided to do more metta practice. Why not? I started with the present place and traveled around the world, wishing everyone I knew well. Then I started to reflect on everyone I had ever met and wished them well. One particular memory came back to me again and again.

The year I turned 30 I was working in Southeast Asia in a refugee camp that had 20,000 refugees from Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. Every refugee had a different story—some people were fleeing starvation, some were looking for a better life, some were running from death squads. Everyone you talked to had a dramatic story. If you've seen the movie "The Killing Fields" you have some idea what it was like.

My job, for part of the time I was in the camp, was to teach a class of 30 adults a “cultural orientation” to life in the United States, the place where they were all going. As their teacher, I taught the refugees how to rent a house, write a check, use the phone—all that stuff. It was great. My students looked up to me as a kind of guru—I was a light that could shine the way for them. Moral in the class was very high—everyone believed that their life was going to get better and, besides, most of my students were young and fun-loving. They had suffered enough. The class lasted four weeks. By the end of the class I had gotten to know the name of every student, one of whom had never smiled. Why, I finally asked one of my students, does Mrs Tang never smile? The student told me to ask Mrs. Tang's husband. So I did and he told me the story.

They—Mr. Tang, Mrs. Tang, and their 16-year-old daughter—had fled Vietnam in a little boat. Most Vietnamese fled Vietnam by sea to either Malaysia or the Philippines which meant crossing 500 miles, 900 kilometers, of open sea. When the Tang's boat was far out on the open sea, pirates attacked. In those days Thai fisherman were supplementing their income by piracy—and along the way guaranteeing themselves a ticket to hell by kidnapping young women. So that's what they did—they robbed everyone and took Mr. and Mrs Tang's 16-year-old daughter. The pirates were known to rape the young girls they had kidnapped and then throw them overboard. Miraculously, a few women survived that ordeal, sometimes after floating in the sea for days, but by the time I met Mr. and Mrs. Tang it was clear that that their daughter was forever gone.

The story was, of course extremely, heart-wrenchingly sad. What could I, the enlightened teacher-guru, possibly say? I couldn't say anything. But I did have a small picture of the Buddha that I had carried with me for years. I gave it to Mr. Tang. “Thank you,” he said, “We believe that getting a picture of the Buddha brings good luck.”

I thought, deep in my heart, about Mrs Tang now. I hoped that eventually she had found a way out of her immense sadness. One of the great metta masters of our time, Dipa Ma, started her formal spiritual work in her mid-fifties after the death of her husband and two of her children. It was, Dipa Ma, showed everyone, possible to let go of, and move beyond, life's greatest tragedies. Dipa Ma, who spent many years in Burma before returning to India in the 1980s, spent a lot of time contemplating infinite loving kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity in order to give up her own sadness and embrace a deeper happiness.

I hoped that Mrs Tang had been able to find her own way to peace and happiness.

We left the beach at sunset and arrived back in the village after dark by which time the center of the village was eerily deserted. However, as we drove back to Frances, passing many small villages, I saw that for many people their evening recreation was simply sitting outside their tiny house and watching the world go by.

This story finishes with a series of pictures that you can click to enlarge.

00_boat-on-island 01_boat-at_island 02_andre-and-dacio 03_yellow-sailboat_at_sunset 04_boats at sunset 1 copy
05_sunset1 06_andre-as-boat-comes-into_s_frisco 07_church_in_sf 08_two-girls-at_church 09_downtown_sf_at_night

Post script written five days later in Lima Peru

We drank ayahuasca one last time on Sunday, March 30. This time there were no surprises—indeed we spent a quiet afternoon peacefully listening to music and watching nature in the jungle hut outside of Maceio. The only surprise was that I did a metta meditation with Dacio and one other man. They liked it very much and said that they would continue the practice.

Just before I left Brazil, at Dacio's request, I recorded what I had taught him. Later a Helder added music to it and sent it to me. If you are curious, it is here. On that last day I also gave them some links to people who are qualified to teach both metta and meditation. You can look at them sometime.

Sharon Satzberg, one of my teachers, learned metta in Burma and now she teaches it. Here is is a talk.

http://www.dharma.org/ims/mp3/04-Sharon_Salzberg-Guided_Metta_Meditation.mp3

Here is a short essay by Sharon on metta,

http://www.vipassana.com/meditation/facets_of_metta.php

Sharon wrote a book called, "Loving Kindness." It is excellent. You can read an excerpt at

http://www.amazon.com/gp/reader/1570621764/ref=sib_dp_pt#reader-link

One of Sharon's metta teachers was Dipa Ma. Here is a short intro to Dipa Ma:

http://www.thebuddhadharma.com/issues/2003/spring/schmidt_jenkins_dipa_ma.html

A student of Dipa Ma was Joseph Goldstein. He can explain things very well and he speaks slowly and clearly. Here is his profound talk on metta:

http://www.dharma.org/ims/mp3/02-Joseph_Goldstein-Dharma_Talk_-_Metta_-_Preparing_the_Ground.mp3

If you have kids, open this link. If you like what you read here, explore the site.

http://www.buddhanet.net/metta_k3.htm

A longer essay on metta can be found here:

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/buddharakkhita/wheel365.html

There are four states of happiness: loving kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity. They balance each other out pretty nicely, which you can read about below. You don't have to study this stuff. Just read a sentence now and then:

http://www.buddhanet.net/ss01.htm

Meditation is a big subject and finding a style that you like and feel comfortable with is not always easy. Here is a short article on the style that I like:

http://www.thebuddhadharma.com/issues/2007/spring/mind.html

It's a simple practice, so simple that anyone can do it.

If you have 40 minutes to spare, download and read this illustrated pocket book on meditation:

http://www.dhammaweb.net/books/settleback.zip

The Buddha said that meditation can be practiced sitting, standing, lying down, or walking. I like the walking . . .

http://www.thebuddhadharma.com/issues/2004/winter/walking.html

I'm in Peru as I write this. On April 21 I'll begin Part Two of this pilgrimage. This will involve more ayahuasca with a Peruvian healer and then I'll travel around Peru with San Pedro, a mescaline-based healing plant. If anything happens, I'll write about it. So far though this has been an amazing journey. I'm very happy to be here . . .

Peace and happiness. -- Tom

Continue on to Part II: Losing my Self in Ayahuasca

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