Traveling with Mother Auyahuasca (Ayahuasca),
Part I: Early days with Auyahuasca.
©Tom Riddle, 2007
Between December 31 2006 and March 23, 2007 I drank auyahuasca, Amazonia's "Vine of the Gods," twenty-one times in Brazil and Peru and took notes on every session. In 2008 decided to put part of those notes here with the hope that others might take inspiration from them, be entertained by them, and possibly avoid some of the mistakes that I made.
Auyahuasca is a wonderful therapeutic tool, but it must be treated with great respect. Fortunately all of my guides, with one major exception, had that respect.
If you have read my Gabon Journal, you know that I am a long-time Buddhist meditator who, after feeling that I had pressed all the buttons that meditation allowed me to press, started looking into healing plants. Many people consider auyahuasca to be the perfect complement to iboga. I was told again and again that iboga roots you to the earth while auyahuasca takes you to the heavens. (Iboga being a root and auyahuasca being a vine.) I'm still not sure if I understand what that means, but I'm sure both plants have incredible healing properties.
If you only want to read the strangest stories, you can try Certainty of Death , A Cautionary Tale about the Night the French Killed Me and then Slowly Brought me Back to Life , Flying to a Nearby Beach, and The Strangest Phone call of my Life. However reading the notes straight through might give you a sense of the range of experiences that once can have with auyahuasca.
As the year ends, tonight, I will have my first taste of auyahuasca.
Talking to the people here, drinking auyahuasca is wonderful. People see visions, receive teachings, and “cleanse.” This isn't iboga and no one has talked about "entering the land of the dead."
I'll be drinking with Essencia Divina (Essence of the Divine), one of the many Brazilian auyahuasca churches. The leader of this group, in this small resort community, is Andre. I like him. In his forties, he is friendly and sincere. About fifty people have come from all over Brazil to be here tonight and this will be one of the biggest events of the year.
Dressed in white, which is what everyone is supposed to wear, we arrived at Andre’s compound what the Brazilians call, “The Center”, at 6 pm. Just inside the center, in front of the auyahuasca garden, someone had set up a white sun shade above a kitchen table that functioned as the altar. On the altar was a beer-bottle-sized statue of the Virgin Mary, a statue of the black virgin, another statue of a Catholic saint, a crystal, and some decorative stones. The table also had a four-liter clear glass container with a little tap at the bottom like you’d expect to see on a water cooler. It was filled with auyahuasca. Other bottles of auyahuasca were on the table. Directly in front of the sunshade were about fifty white plastic chairs arranged in neat rows.
As we walked in, Andre, who the locals call “Master,” was working at the table / altar going through his CD collection and arranging the bottles of auyahuasca.
Shortly, the ceremony began with a speech. Andrea said he was glad to see us and said that this was a good way to close one year and begin another. After that, everyone lined up and was served a glass of auyahuasca from Andre. My glass, about twice the size of a whiskey shot glass and with the same shape, was filled about ¾ full. When everyone had a glass in hand, we all stood up and after some inspirational words from Andre, it was bottoms up. I’ve heard that the more auyahuasca you drink the worse it tastes. Naturally then my first taste wasn’t too bad. It certainly tasted much better than iboga whose bitterness is second only to that of battery acid.
Just after that a man carrying a tray walked up and down the aisles collecting everyone’s glass. After Africa, this was as organized as a launch of the space shuttle and certainly as clean. The Brazilians know a thing or two about organization, cleanliness, and putting on a show.
I sat beside Andrea. Andrea is the person who, more than anyone else, saved me during my iboga initiation in Africa four months ago. It was her skill, love, confidence and caring attention that pulled me through that. Now we are old friends and she's the one who invited me here. Other old friends include Christine and Baptiste. Less than a year ago, those two gave me my first iboga in France. I'm staying in a rented house with those guys and 9 other people who have come with Christine and Andrea here to Brazil.
Andrea told me to just sit comfortably, in the white plastic chair, close my eyes, and simply be ready to meet Mother Auyahuasca. Just keep an open mind and, Andrea assured me, Mother Auyahuasca would do the rest. That sounded easy enough and all the more so when, just after we drank the auyahuasca, Andre turned on his fantastic sound system and played us a long piece of music that began with hypnotic wind chimes. After that came a recorded sermon that was a mix of a Catholic mass and a Tibetan ritual. Then came another recorded Mass, this time in English. The priest said all kinds of things about love—here was love, everyone here was open to love, God was love, all of that stuff. Finally Andre sang a long slow beautiful song in Portuguese. All was well.
I waited and waited for something to happen. Finally, my legs started vibrating and then I felt as if someone was twisting my neck and head in different directions. I must have looked like I was trying to jog in place and do yoga while sitting in the chair. Everyone else was motionless. I felt a little embarrassed, but I wasn’t making any noise or distracting anyone, so I just let it happen. Soon I was doing a kind of tap dance and jog with my bare feet on the ground as I sat in the chair. A few times I saw things that looked like Aztec art, but nothing was particularly striking as I sat there looking like I was having a nervous seizure.
After an hour or so there was a pause in the music and a few people walked up to the alter for a second glass of auyahuasca. One of the people was, like me, drinking auyahuasca for the first time. If she can do it, I thought, so can I. The second glass went down as easily as the first.
I sat back down and started shaking again. This time the shaking spread to my arms and head. What was my problem?
Then came a break. Everyone got up and walked around a bit. The Brazilians acted like they were at a cocktail party—quietly talking, embracing old friends, enjoying the cool evening. All of the French people went outside for a cigarette. I followed them and continued to shake and move my body like I was rehearsing for a disco dance contest or loosening up to run a marathon. No one cared.
We came back in. The chairs were put away and people prepared for line dancing, which is part of the auyahuasca ritual here in Brazil. Andrea told me that I should follow her for another glass of auyahuasca. I did. This time the auyahuasca didn’t look like weak milk tea. It looked more like a black sludge. Andre gave me a small glass. It was very strong, but it went down okay. On the table were pieces of apple that we could munch on to take the strong taste of the auyahuasca out of our mouths.
The line dancing started with the men on one side of the yard and the women on the other. Everyone did a simple side-to-side shuffle. It looked like fun, so I decided to give it a try. I walked to the back of the men’s area. Hey, I thought, look at me, I’m dancing. The Brazilians were singing melodious auyahuasca songs as they danced. In the middle of the yard people played guitars, bongos, a violin, and even an orchestral harp!
Before long it started to lightly rain. Just then I decided that I wanted to lie down. As I walked to find a place in the grass to stretch out, Christine stopped me to say that I was lucky to be wearing my Gortex raincoat. I thanked her for her kind words, but I really wanted to lie down.
A few feet away from her, I found a spot on the grass and lay down. “Lucky?” I thought, “If I’m so god-dammed lucky, why am I laying immobile in this wet grass, while it’s raining?” I pulled the hood of my raincoat up to cover my face. Meanwhile the singing and dancing continued.
It was somehow comforting to lay there. The mind was calm with no visions or strong thoughts except how nice it was to embrace the earth and not have to move. My parka only covered me down to my waist. My legs and bare feet were getting wet.
It was time to vomit. I couldn’t really move except to jam my face against the wall of the house and retch. The retching was violent and came complete with some horrible sounds that the people around me noticed. Soon I felt a few hands on my shoulders and back and heard comforting words. That was nice. “I’m comfortable,” I said as I wretched again and again.
When the vomiting stopped, someone decided that they should move me out of the rain. Baptiste, always the helpful one, assisted me in standing up and walked me to a partially covered patio, “There is some purification going on here,” I told him. He nodded. “And I’m a non-smoker and a vegetarian too, you know?” I never get tired of reminding the chain-smoking French that I don't smoke. Christine found a blanket and put it on the ground. I immediately collapsed onto my stomach, turning my head to the side. I heard Andrea’s voice. She combed my hair with her fingers and told me that everything was okay. Again and again she told me that I didn’t have to do anything and that everything was fine. She is an angel.
I couldn’t move. The music continued.
The paralysis seemed to deepen. Damn, I thought, this is like the iboga initiation all over again. I can’t move but at least here there isn’t, like there was in Africa, a little monkey crawling over me and here people aren’t stepping on me. Just then someone stepped on me, but just my foot.
Occasionally I would get an involuntary tremor in my feet or shoulders or a spasm somewhere. Otherwise I was lifeless – just a few thoughts and no visions.
I remembered that usually people don’t die after drinking auyahuasca. Unfortunately, however, I was going to be an exception. The drug was getting the better of me—I couldn’t feel my limbs; my heart and breathing were slowing down. Soon, my heart was going to stop. But I had an ace in the hole: if I could speak, I could tell Andrea what to do to save my life when my heart stopped beating.
“Andrea? Andrea?” I whispered, unable to move.
“I’m here,” she said.
With great difficulty I whispered, “I think that my heart is going to stop beating. When that happens you'll need to roll me over and have someone pound on my chest to get my heart beating again.”
“No, don’t worry—your heart isn’t going to stop beating. That is just the mind playing a game with you.”
“But I feel that it’s going to stop beating. I felt as if someone is telling me to tell you that you gotta remember to pound my heart.”
“It’s just the mind. You are okay, you’re just fine, and everything is perfect.” She was gently touching my back. She has a future as an emergency room nurse.
“Yes. I understand. But could you watch me and if you see that my heart isn’t beating, do something.”
“I’ll always watch you.”
“Thank you. Are you okay?”
It was raining heavily now. My face was just at the edge of the patio so I got pounded by the driving rain. Fortunately my parka has a hood. I pulled it over my face and calmly waited for my heart to stop beating.
My heart is slowing down. Death is coming. I can feel every heartbeat and every breath. I need to tell Andrea that my heart is going to stop. She needs to be sure that some strong men are standing by. Once the heart stops, they can’t waste any time with a diagnosis. They gotta get it beating again. I’ll just need few quick pounds to the chest to get it working again. Could someone please monitor my pulse? It’s getting faint. Touch my feet, can you feel a pulse? Just the pulse, would you please do that?
But I was too weak to say anything. The Brazilians don’t want me to die. They’ll take care of me.
I heard someone whistling. Perhaps it was Andre, the master. I had heard that whistling is sometimes used to calm people down when they are freaking out on auyahuasca. I wasn’t freaking out; indeed the mind was calm. My only problem was that my heart was going to stop beating any second now.
The involuntary violent tremors continued in my feet and shoulders. Some of the people watching me laughed. I must have looked like a frog on a lab table that was being poked with an electric prod. Hey, guys, come on, I’m not faking this, you know?
A few times I felt my breathing returning to normal, but just then, I’d slip back into near death.
I didn’t move for a long time.
Once, when the heart and breathing got a little steadier, I asked Andrea if the party was over. I couldn’t hear any music.
No, she said, people were on a break.
“I’m comfortable,” I said. I couldn’t move a thing.
“I have to leave you for a few minutes,” she said.
“Yes, that’s okay.”
A few hours had passed. Lying there flat on my stomach in the grass it started to get damned uncomfortable. If I could roll over onto my side, I reasoned, I could use my elbow for a pillow and pull my knees up towards my chest. I made a massive effort. Finally, I bent my legs and pulled them to the side, but I couldn’t move my head, arms, or trunk. I must have looked like someone had driven a car over me.
The party ended; it became quiet. Someone tried to tell me something in Portuguese. I couldn’t understand them. I heard Andrea’s voice. “I am here,” she said. I somehow turned my head. She was a few meters away, lying down.
“Are you okay?” I asked her.
“Okay. I’m in touch with my power now.” She couldn’t move either. Now we were the only two people who were still there.
We talked for a few minutes. I asked her what had happened to me. She said that Mother Auyahuasca was trying to teach me to give up control—to just let things be.
I had let things be.
Now I feel better. I just don’t want to move.
More time passed. Christine came up to me. “Can you walk?”
“Yes, I think so.” I said. That was a surprise.
“Then come to the beach with us. It is better if we can stay together.”
Somehow I sat up, and using one foot and then the other, I found that I could stand up. I looked around. All this time I had thought that I was lying in the grass. In fact though, it was concrete. A minute later Andrea stood up and together we walked out the driveway, across the road, and towards the beach. We felt okay—a little unsteady that’s all. Andrea held my hand and told me that everything was fine and that I had done very well. She is always one to say comforting things in times of stress. Thank God for that.
It was a fifteen minute walk to the beach. We walked through a thick forest, up a hill, then through a coconut grove.
On the beach the Brazilians were already singing and dancing. Someone had brought the huge orchestral harp that they had played earlier in the evening. Now they were playing it in the wonderfully bright moonlight while fireworks lit up the distant night sky. I had forgotten that this was New Year's Eve.
Andrea and I talked for a long time. I told her that when I saw her this time she looked ten years younger. Nevertheless, she told me, the last few months had been very intense. A long relationship with a man in the iboga world had ended. To help her recover, Andrea had drunk a lot of auyahuasca. She felt that the auyahuasca had helped her let go of any ideas of who she was supposed to be and let her accept more of who she really was.
“It’s interesting,” I concluded, “that we’re older and yet life is still so interesting. I had always thought that by this time I’d know who I was and that there would be some solidity to life.”
“This is all very good.”
“Too good. Life is too interesting to leave. I can’t die yet.”
Sometime after that we walked back to the center where there were cakes and soft drinks waiting for us. I was hungry and enjoyed a piece of chocolate cake. The Brazilians were, as always, as social as love birds. As far as I could tell, no one other than me had come within a heartbeat of death.
At about two in the morning I ate some yogurt and went to sleep.
I should consider becoming an alcoholic. This auyahuasca stuff isn't working.
Andre gave each person in the French contingent a very strong glass of auyahuasca to get us started. Soon I started to shake, move, squirm, and dance in my chair. Under normal circumstances this would have been extremely embarrassing. As it was, people were amused by it—funny for them because they weren't the one having an epileptic seizure.
I just shook. I didn’t have strong thoughts or visions. I bent and twisted in every possible position while sitting in the chair. Once I swung my legs over the arms of the chair and clearly felt that I was, as I had done thirty years ago, riding a copra boat in the South Pacific. I tried looking down into the ocean, but I couldn’t see anything. A few times I clutched my head with my hands, but the hands holding my head were not mine—they were the hands of a woman. What was that about?
The shaking continued for a long time. Andrea thought that I was having a terrible nightmare, so she rubbed her hands over my body and did some chanting. She didn’t need to do anything though. I was perfectly comfortable. The body just wanted to shake, squirm, jerk, and spasm like I was having a heart attack and seizure at the same time. At one point I covered my head with a small blanket and let my mouth open in the same way that the mouth of a garden snake opens when it is swallowing a frog. My mouth felt locked open and much wider than it had even been open before. Strange.
When the break finally came, I walked outside, but I couldn’t see very well. People were blurry and walking was difficult.
Coming back inside I lay down. The shaking continued. On and on it went, hour after hour. I looked at my watch. It was one thirty in the morning. I was getting bored with it all—why was I drinking something that makes me have epileptic seizures? All this time I was aware that the live music—drums, guitar, violin, and harp were all wonderful, for normal people.
At two thirty the ceremony ended. But most people seemed to want to hang around. I was out of it.
I asked Andre and Andrea what had happened. Why couldn’t I have visions and wonderful thoughts like the rest of the people? They said that my mind was controlling my body and I had to let go of all control. Andre wanted to tell me something. At one point in the ceremony he had walked through the crowd carrying some castanets. He used these to give everyone the wonderful sensation that a flight of locusts were passing nearby. He said that he received this teaching through me. I had, he said, “channeled” this energy to him.
With Andre away, the French people that I'm staying with decided that they would have their own ayahuasca ceremony and I was invited. The ceremony would be lead by a French woman in her mid-thirties.
Things started off well enough— we all drank together and then silently waited for the medicine to do its work.
I didn't have to wait long before bright lights and all kinds of middle-American art started flashing before my closed eyes.
I was lying with everyone else inside the living room of the house that the French contingent had rented. By chance I was beside the closed door to the verandah. With my eyes still closed, I looked towards that door and saw a family eating breakfast. I studied them for awhile. They were extremely colorful, but not very interesting. I soon lost interest and turned back into the room where we were all lying down. The bright lights faded. Just then I started to get strong electrical shocks in my body that were contorting me into strange positions. My fists and knees banged into the door. One of the participants said I was disturbing other people. I volunteered to go outside but the leader said, no, I should stay right there. I wasn’t, she insisted, disturbing anyone.
Soon a disgusting smell started coming from my gut. It was similar to the smell of decaying garbage or that of a dead dog on the side of the road that has been in the sun too long. The woman beside me moved away. I covered my head with my scarf to try to hide the smell. How could a smell that bad be coming from a non-smoking-vegetarian-health-food-nut like me?
Electric shocks continued. At one point I curled up into a ball with my head touching my knees. Suddenly, like a scene from a horror movie, I was thrown flat on my back and my arm shot up into the air so violently that my shoulder and elbow joints snapped like they had been broken. This happened again and again like some strange force was trying to snap off my arm at the shoulder and elbow joints. I was sure that I was going to severely damage my joints. What was this about?
After a long time I asked the leader if I could go outside—flopping around like this was ridiculous. She said that I could and helped me walk out the door.
Christine was already outside. She looked at me and wondered what was wrong. I tried to tell her, but the words came out in an uncontrollable stutter. I pointed to my mouth and mumbled that my speech was gone. Christine smiled.
The shaking continued. I found some cushions, put them on the tiled floor of the veranda, and lay down. Baptiste, Christine's young student, was in a hammock close to me. As I lay on the floor, my arms flew like a crazy pendulum from one side of my body to the other in a rhythmic motion that I couldn't control. “It's funny,” I said. Baptiste agreed. I must have looked like some bizarre wind-up toy soldier that has fallen over and yet continues to unwind—kicking and flailing the air helplessly.
Shortly, Baptiste went back inside, leaving me alone on the veranda. The violent shaking gradually stopped. I could hear the group leader inside—singing, chanting, and playing music on the CD player. Everyone seemed to be having a good time, but I couldn't stand up or speak.
There were no visions and no strong thoughts.
Finally, two hours later, I was calm and strong enough to wander back inside the house; all things considered, I felt fine. People were relaxing. Christine said that she wanted to give me a healing. I said that would be fine as long as she didn't smoke. I laid down, pulled my scarf over my head, and let her chant over my body. She couldn't get my shaking to stop, but eventually she said that I was somehow now physiologically better off. I thanked her and immediately went back to walking, running, and then skipping around like a wild man. Andrea asked me if I could stop it—I said that it was out of my control.
Another hour must have passed. I wandered back inside. Some people were apparently sleeping; others were talking, singing, listening to music.
Now comes the climax of our story: As soon as she saw me again, having never checked on me in several hours, the careless leader of the session announced to me and every one else that everyone there thought that I should have another glass of auyahuasca. In retrospect this was about like asking a gullible teenager to drink a tall glass of gin after finishing a bottle of wine and telling him that "the adults think that you should." And like a gullible teenager, I said yes. That was a big mistake.
What happened next was the worst single drug experience of my life.
I drank the second glass of thick auyahuasca fairly easily. Back outside, I shortly felt the need to vomit. I found a place near the grass, lay down on my side, and vomited. And then I vomited again and again. Soon Andrea was there to put her soothing hands on me.
I found myself panting like a dog as the world spun crazily around me. I breathed as hard as I could, but I couldn't seem to get enough air into my lungs to stop from suffocating no matter how wide I opened my mouth. And the horrible retching was ripping my throat out. Weak beyond belief, I could turn my head to the side to wretch, but I couldn't sit up.
In a world of my own, it was very difficult for me to open my eyes even for a second. I was incredibly overdosed and no one knew what to do.
I asked for the young French man, Baptiste, to come and hold my hand? When I heard his voice, I put my hand out—asking him to hold it and then asking him to put his face near mine so I could open my eyes and see his face. He said yes, he could do that. With great difficulty I opened my eyes, looked at him, and asked him for help. Could he please heal me? I was helpless: no thoughts, great difficultly breathing, and uncontrollable vomiting. Baptiste did what he could, which was nothing but wish me well.
I fell into some kind of conscious coma where I was breathing rapidly but still couldn't get enough air into my lungs. If I could, I would have requested an oxygen mask. The violent vomiting continued even though very little was still coming out. I couldn't move. I asked someone to wipe my mouth with a tissue. They did. Could they wipe my nose?
The leader of the ceremony finally came outside to where I was and told me to try to breathe slowly and deeply. I did the best I could— just wanting to stay alive. I was sure that I wouldn't die if I could get air into my lungs, but I couldn’t breathe. Could she help me breathe? I was breathing like someone who's run a long race and can’t catch his breath, or, at other times, like an exhausted dog on a hot day.
For the next four hours I asked different people to hold my hand and stay with me. Fortunately they did and for that I'll always be grateful. They encouraged me not to enter "panic mode" and to breathe slowly and to breathe deeply.
When it started to rain they carried me to the veranda.
My legs started to cramp. Very painful cramps in engulfed my calf muscles. I asked if someone could please massage them. Someone did, but still the pain was almost unbearable.
The vomiting continued. The people around me would occasionally give me a sip of water which I would almost immediately throw up. A few times I was sure I would soon be getting diarrhea. When that happened I would have to ask the men to pull down my pants and just let it flow. I didn't want the women to see me in that state.
The leader of the ceremony told me again and again that I was healing my body and mind and that I was going to feel much better later. Looking back, I think she was afraid that someone would say, "Fool! Why did you give so much ayahuasca to someone who clearly couldn't handle it! You had no idea what you were doing and now look at what you've done to him!"
Gradually I could see silhouettes as the night was ending and the morning was beginning. Just then I heard a bird singing.
Finally my breathing must have started to return to normal.
It was now bright morning—the sun was beating down in the grass.
An hour or so later I asked someone to help me stand up. I took one step, paused for a minute, took another, and did that until I could shuffle my feet unaided. The cramps that had hurt me so much a few hours ago now caused me to painfully limp. But walking was soothing. I walked around for a long time. The people who helped me make it through the night were still up talking and smoking cigarettes. I had a terrible stutter and all the vomiting had reduced my voice to a harsh whisper. Nevertheless I managed to thank everyone for their help.
It would be more than a year before I realized what had happened on that horrific night. Now, in 2008, I see how easy it is for people to declare themselves a master of almost anything and begin teaching before they are ready. Sometimes that can be harmless, if what they are teaching is ping-pong, but if they are declaring themselves auyahuasca masters, they can really do some damage!
The French contingent, with Andrea and I again declaring ourselves friends for life, left Brazil two days later.
After the French left I moved into a small hostel. By this time my regular sleeping patterns were long forgotten, so one night, long after my usual bedtime I found myself wandering around the village. I peaked into the auyahuasca center. Andre was talking with a few friends; when he saw me he invited me to go with him to a Santo Daime Church service the next night.
The Santo Daime Church is the biggest and most famous of Brazil's auyahuasca churches. Started by a rubber-taper in the Amazon rainforest named Raimundo Irineuby, it now has branches all around Brazil and in a few countries overseas, including England and Japan.
This particular Santo Daime Church was on a small hill outside of Maceio, about an hour's drive from here. Traveling with us to the ceremony was a father and his 15-year-old daughter from Brasilia, the capital of Brazil. The father told me that he had been drinking auyahuasca for 17 years and that his daughter had been drinking auyahuasca all her life. When his wife had given birth to his daughter, he had taken some auyahuasca to the hospital and given it to his wife to ease the pain of delivery and, immediately after the birth, to his new daughter to welcome her into the world. The other person there, a woman about 30, told me that she drinks auyahuasca every 15 days in a Santo Daime Church in Brasilia. She urged me to visit Brasilia where I could drink auyahuasca in an English-speaking church.
This was going to be a special service because a famous padre, priest, in the Santo Daime Church was going to lead it. They said that this man could pray very strongly.
When we arrived, the service had not yet started. Members of the Church were wearing uniforms that consisted of a white shirt and black pants for men, and a white shirt and black skirt for women. The men wore long neckties while the women wore tiny bow ties. A few people wore a badge that looked remarkably like an American sheriff's badge—it was the star of auyahuasca.
In the Essence of the Divine Church everyone is given a glass and everyone drinks together. At this church, however, there were just two glasses. The server alternated giving one glass to a woman and one glass to a man. Before the next person drank, the server wiped the glass clean.
I had been told that the server would have the ability to look at a person and know immediately how much auyahuasca that person needed. In my case that turned out to be true—I was given just a tiny glass of auyahuasca which I was very grateful for because I still felt hung over from the night the French had tried to kill me.
After everyone had drunk a glass there were some prayers and then the dancing began. The dancing consisted of four small steps to the right and four small steps to the left. Occasionally this would change to just two steps. Music was provided by two guitar players, one person on maracas, and one guy on bongo drums. Each song was started by a woman who seemed to have the lungs of an opera star. I kept waiting, but there wasn't a break in the dancing for more than four hours. Occasionally they would stop for a prayer, but there was no break long enough for everyone to go outside or to sit down. Indeed most people stayed on their feet for the entire time and many people seem to dance nonstop with great enjoyment. The padre that people had come to pray looked to be over seventy, but he was still full of energy. At least two of the other men who had danced non-stop for four hours were in their sixties. I was amazed.
One problem I had was that I couldn’t follow the four-step beat that everyone else did, so I stood outside and did a simple two-step. Outside I was relieved to see that a few other people had come outside outside just to sit down in the luxuriantly cool night air; others came outside to visit the bushes; a few people came outside to vomit. Most members, however, never stopped dancing.
By the end of the evening I had drank three small glasses of auyahuasca while most everyone else had put back three big glasses. The auyahuasca didn't do much for me except sober me up in the same way that having a beer after a night of heavy drinking can wake up a drunk.
When the dancing finally stopped at 2:30 everyone came outside and I noticed that not one person lit a cigarette. This was a wonderful relief after having spent two weeks with the French who would light up every chance they got.
During the drive back to Frances I asked the 15-year-old girl who was accompanying us if she was tired. She said that she was not, an indeed, after three large glasses of auyahuasca she said she was in what the people here call the “burrachira” or the blissful mind state that auyahuasca can bring. She seemed very happy and like the other teenagers I've met in the ayahuasca community seemed remarkably self-confidant and mature.
Yesterday Andre had the idea that what I needed was a more structured way to make friends with auyahuasca. He invited me to come over to his place at 10 in the morning for a breathing exercise.
It was very simple. I was given some auyahuasca, told to lie down on my back, and breathe deeply through my mouth for two hours. I did my best to follow directions.
Soon I felt as if the deep and soothing fingers of the best masseuse in the world were massaging me from head to foot in waves of soothing energy. I signaled to Andre that this was wonderful. “This is only the beginning,” one of his assistants told me.
I fell into, well, ecstasy. The breathing and the auyahuasca, for reasons that I'll never understand, gave me the sensation that I was having the greatest massage of all time. This was a remarkable change.
And then I fell asleep.
Hours later I woke up and pulled the scarf away from my eyes. The world had changed. Now the sun was shining from a different direction and everything was bright and colorful. I looked at my watch. The entire exercise had taken about four hours. Amazing. What has just happened to me? Andre and his assistants had long ago left the compound. The only people still hanging around were two angelic-looking little girls and their mother. The mother of the girls told one of them to take me by the hand and lead me to the kitchen.
I was dizzy and walking was difficult, but somehow we made it. There I ate some rice and fish.
That night was an auyahuasca “work” with about twenty people. I drank one glass, thought I was going to vomit, didn’t, got a splitting headache, and finally slept on a mat somewhere until the ceremony ended at 3:30 in the morning.
Today was another breathing exercise, what I’ve learned is called a “birthing ceremony.” This time I was told that I would not be drinking auyahuasca; I just had to breathe deeply for two hours. I wondered what possible benefit I could get from that, but if three other people were going to do it with me, I would do my best.
We all lay down, started breathing through our noses, and then we were told to breathe deeply through our mouths by expanding our stomachs. I covered my eyes with my scarf and began. A few times Andre or one of his assistants reminded me to breathe deeply. Soon my mouth was very wide open and my tongue was extending out of my mouth as I breathed deeper and deeper.
When I studied karate we would breathe out in a kung-fu “Hah!”, and then cough a final pocket of air out of our stomachs. I found myself doing just that, only now, after the final exhalation, I couldn’t inhale again. Where was my breath? Why couldn’t I inhale? Was I going to suffocate from a lack of air? I grabbed my throat, come on air, come in! Finally, I was able to inhale. Shortly I found that when I exhaled I was pounding my stomach with my fist—I wanted all of that bad air out. When Andre saw me do this, he placed his foot on my stomach. I guided his foot with my hand and together we put all his weight on my stomach as I exhaled. It felt good. This was a kung-fu breathing exercise that you don’t see in the movies.
Suddenly I got the dry heaves. I found myself spasmodically shaking and making horrible retching noises. (Later I was told that my retching noise had woken up everyone in the compound who was still sleeping.) I heaved and heaved as my body flipped around like a fish out of water. Once I signaled that I was going to actually vomit and someone went running for a pan. I didn’t throw up though. Instead I lay on my side and continued heaving and shaking.
Finally, again, I fell asleep.
When I woke up my voice was horse, I felt stunned, and it was only with great difficulty that I eventually sat up.
Later someone asked me to compare the two days. On the first day, with auyahuasca, I had had a very blissful experience. One the second day everything was physical. But the experiences on both days left me physically drained, dizzy, and emotionally stunned. Some deep inner cleaning had occurred.
Thank God for Andre.
One of the people who has been at the center for the last few weeks left yesterday. To mark his leaving, Andre decided to give him a going away party in the form of auyahuasca at the beach. I was invited. The plan was to drink at the center and then walk to the beach.
The party began with Andre giving everyone a small glass of “honey.” Honey is the extra-thick, extra-dry auyahuasca that Andre saves for special occasions and for people whom he feels can handle it. If normal auyahuasca is beer, then this is vodka. Immediately after drinking it everyone looked like they had just sucked on a lemon or drank a glass of vinegar. The taste was awful. It helped to eat a small piece of fruit immediately after drinking the honey, nevertheless, everyone stood around wincing for a few minutes.
It was an easy fifteen-minute walk from the center, over the sand dunes to the beach. There all nine of us crowded under a coconut thatch sun screen that Andre had built. Some people immediately lay down; others sat up. I sat in full lotus.
Before long a small airplane landed in the ocean, just a hundred meters or so from where we were lying. The pilot came to our group and demanded that I go with him for a ride in his plane. I told him that there was no way I was getting in his god-dammed plane. He tried again and again to talk me into it, but I was stubborn. No way. Why would I ever want to do that?
Just then one of Andre’s dogs decided that he wanted some affection from me. What was this about? The dog, who follows Andre everywhere, had been laying some distance away, but now he moved closer and put one paw up on my thigh, wanting me to hold it. That was DEFINITELY NOT GOING TO HAPPEN. Andre had told us repeatedly that animals can tell when humans are on auyahuasca and that sometimes they will use our auyahuasca-open-heartedness to infect us with bad spirits or a strange entity. I almost asked Andre to tell the dog to move, but then I thought that surely Andre must be watching the dog to make sure that I was protected. I went back to the auyahuasca.
The auyahuasca was now sending waves of soothing energy through my body. I felt very, very good. What to do? I decided to search my memory for every woman I had ever been close to and wish her well. Using the concentration that the plant gave me, I recalled only the good times we had had together, forgave them for anything they had done to hurt me, and wished them well. Along the way I got socked with some very strong sexual memories, but never mind.
Not everyone I've known has been blessed with an easy life. The girlfriend I had when I was in university now has breast cancer. As I continued to move through the continuum of people and faces it was clear that they were all good people. Even my nemesis, Sister Mary, was basically good hearted, she was just, as she once confessed to me, crazy.
At this point Andre started singing his heart-felt prayers. Then everyone else started to sing. As they sang I felt their voices going straight to my heart. I sat up very straight and placed my hand on my chest. So, I thought, this is why they drink this stuff.
Wave after wave of ecstasy went through me. I felt now, for the first time, that the auyahuasca had given me complete control of my mind and that I had the power to direct waves of energy up and down my spine and indeed throughout the body. This was wonderful.
I thought about the Buddha and sensed his presence. I don’t speak Pali, the language of the Buddha, but nevertheless we communicated. He said that he wanted me to be with him when he died. He wasn’t afraid of death, he just wanted me to be there to comfort him. So I traveled back in time to Kushinigar, the place where Buddha died. It was night and we were outside, between two trees with Buddha’s disciples. The Buddha laid down one last time. I recognized, Ananda, the Buddha’s attendant. He and I had a special bond in that neither one of us had, so far at least, reached enlightenment.
Meanwhile, back on the beach, the singing continued. There were two guitars and a drum. The songs, all in Portuguese, were about love, the stars, and the joy of life. In my bliss, I couldn’t think of anything to do except wish everyone I could think of well. I spent a lot of time hoping for the best for everyone, perhaps especially for the long-suffering people of Iraq.
I sat in full lotus for three hours. For someone who sits in meditation an hour a day, two hours is a stretch, but three hours is the absolute limit. My knees were on fire. Finally, I took my feet out of full lotus, put the soles of my bare feet flat in the sand in front of me, opened my eyes, and stood up. I had new eyes—the sky had never before been this brilliant shade of turquoise blue, the beach had never looked so creation-day perfect, and the waves had never broken in such a beautiful white surf.
Walking was a little unsteady, but I was able to walk a few meters to the beach before sitting down again, really bowing down, to thank everyone who had helped me. This included everyone whom I had known in Brazil and the many wonderful Buddhist meditation teachers who had selflessly helped me. At last, I was sure, everyone’s hard work and patience had borne fruit.
When I went back to the group who were still singing under the sun shade, Andre told me that I was now "new." I felt that way.
My ecstasy lasted the rest of the day, which included a huge dinner and ice cream.
I couldn’t imagine feeling any better. My knees though, certainly, did not forget that I had sat in full lotus for three hours.
One of the problems of life is that occasionally we encounter situations that we are emotionally unequipped to deal with. Examples include a mother whose only child dies, the unexpected death of a parent, or being diagnosed with a terminal illness. When those things happen often we simply don’t know how to cope. Other times the situations aren't as dramatic, but nevertheless they can affect us very deeply when we don't know how to deal with them. One of the biggest challenges of my life, that I was totally unequipped to deal with, happened when I was 30 years old.
At that time, the early 1980s, refugees were streaming out of Southeast Asia in the tens of thousands. These were the days of the boat people from Vietnam, the immense Cambodian refugee camps that were just inside the Thai border, and the time when thousands of Lao people were crossing the Mekong River into northern Thailand.
In the early 1980s the United States government decided to allow thousands of those refugees to resettle in the United States. To facilitate this, refugee processing centers were set up around Southeast Asia. I worked in one of those centers and it was the worst experience of my life. The camp was located in a poor part of a very poor country. All the local people were either victims of the corrupt aristocracy or they were the corrupt aristocracy who had aligned themselves with the US government. Meanwhile the Americans in charge of the resettlement program were incompetent, petty, unqualified, and clearly in over their heads. (This became especially clear to me after I left that country and began work in the refugee camps of Thailand that were very well-managed.)
I was one of 21 American teacher-trainers in the camp. As the months wore on, we like soldiers in an un-winnable war, began to break down. Some of the women fell into promiscuity, some of the men into heavy drinking and the local booming prostitution scene, while others of us just retreated into our own worlds. I thought that I could protect myself with a regular meditation practice. In retrospect that wasn't enough and I too began to be worn down by the experience. And then one day someone came to rescue me in the form of a Catholic nun, Sister Mary. Sister Mary seemed to understand exactly what people like me were dealing with. We became the best of friends and would occasionally sit in meditation together. Although Sister Mary had been a Catholic nun for all of her adult life, she did not always wear the habit. Now in her early 30s, her interests were starting to broaden and she wanted to try new things.
After I'd known her a few months, I told her that I was going to do some meditation on my upcoming 10-day leave. She said that she knew of a Catholic retreat center in the mountains and that she would be glad to guide me there. That sounded good. When we arrived in the mountains, however, there is no retreat center available and Sister Mary said that to save money she wanted to stay in my hotel room. It turns out that money had nothing to do with it. Sister Mary had other things on her mind: sex. Chastity was, I learned one morning, the very last habit that Sister Mary wanted to have. One hears a lot about Catholic priests committing sexual indiscretions; my guess is that Catholic nuns aren't a lot different.
Having given her virginity to me, Sister Mary considered the two of us engaged to be married. Unfortunately, however, just about this time it became clear to me, as it did to everyone who worked with Sister Mary, that she was out of her mind. It also became clear that Sister Mary's extended family were gangsters and that to save the family honor it had been decided that I would marry the fallen nun.
The manager of the program I worked in got word of the situation. His advice to me was to leave the country as soon as possible, and, in the meantime, hide. I took his advice very seriously.
I escaped with my life. But those memories have always haunted me. Did I do the right thing? Maybe I should have gone back and made my peace with Sister Mary and her family. And whatever happened to her?
Twenty-five years later, one night in Thailand, a month after I had left Africa, I ate a large quantity of the psychotropic hallucinogen called iboga. A few hours later my entire life stretched out in front of me in an immense plane. What I saw was similar to a huge cemetery with each marker standing for one incident in my life. Everything was fine except for one huge marker that was shaped like an Egyptian obelisk or a lone phone booth. It stood for what had happened between me and Sister Mary. Damn, I thought, it's still there. The next day, for the first time ever, I searched the Internet for Sister Mary, but couldn't find her.
Four months later, on Friday, January 26 Andre invited me to go with him to a distant beach where he and some friends are going to spend the weekend.
That night, as a first stop, I slept in the nearby city of Maceio in Andre’s apartment. The next morning I met Andre’s wife, Marissa. Andre is the outgoing one, the extrovert, and the proselytizer. Marissa is the quiet one, more like me, an introvert. Like all Brazilians, I found her friendly and hospitable.
Another couple came as well. All five of us rode in Andre’s car, for the 90-minute drive up the coast. Once outside Maceio the countryside changed into beautiful rolling hills with cattle and farms. Everything was a luxuriant green. On and on we drove until we came to a small town that looked like it once had been a quiet fishing village. These days there were still some fisherman and the narrow streets and small shops are still there, but now there are luxury hotels as well. We drove past all of that, up a steep hill, and stopped at the door of a gated estate. Andre spoke to the family who lived in the gatehouse. They opened the door and we drove inside. At one side of the estate, built into the steep hillside that overlooked the blue ocean far below, was a huge low-lying house, on the roof of which was one of the biggest swimming pools I’ve ever seen. Was this the house of the Bill Gates of Brazil? Downstairs, below the swimming pool, but not inside the house, was a bathroom like you would find in the lobby of a fancy hotel. We were given permission to use the bathroom and to camp in the yard.
We pitched tents, walked down a ten-minute flight of stone stairs to the ocean and drank auyahuasca. By now I can drink auyahuasca and not flop around like a fish on dry land, vomit all over the place, or act like I’m going to die from lack of oxygen. On this Saturday afternoon the auyahuasca was relaxing.
That night everyone fell asleep at eight o’clock.
The next afternoon we went back down to the beach to drink auyahuasca again. This time the auyahuasca was a thick black soup, “honey.” After we drank it Andre said to me in English, “You are going to fly.”
I sat in the meditation posture. A few minutes later the auyahuasca forced me to lie down. This was going to be strong. I closed my eyes and waited.
Not long after that an amphibious airplane landed in the turquoise waters just off the beach. The pilot got out and asked me if I wanted to go for a ride. “No,” I told him, “Can't you see? I’m drinking auyahuasca, I can’t go anywhere.”
“We just want your spiritual body, you can leave your physical body here,” he said.
“Sure, I could do that.”
With that I got up and looked back to see my physical body lying on the beach.
The amphibious plane took me up, out of the bay, and over a hill to the next bay where we landed. I got out, and there, waiting for me, was Sister Mary. She was still thin, but now, twenty-five years after our last meeting, she had cut her hair short, curled it, and my guess was that now she dyed it black. Clearly she had aged twenty-five years.
I was shocked and surprised to see here there. Was I in danger? Was she here to hurt me?
“How are you?” she asked cautiously.
“Fine. And you?”
She said that life had treated her well.
The ice between us melted.
We talked as old friends—the bitterness that we both might have once felt was now gone. I didn’t ask her about her gangster family; she did, however, ask me for the password to my bank account.
“Hey,” I said with a laugh, “remember where you’re from? I never give that kind of thing to people from there.”
“Come on, guy,” she said. "You owe me one."
I offered to help her in other ways and suggested that she e-mail me. She said she would.
Strangely, my mother was there as well. As always my mother ignored any women who had come to see me or whom I was with. My mother said that she had come to say good-bye before she died.
I tried to tell her some comforting words. She had lived a good life and although I would miss her terribly, I was sure that I would be okay.
It was very emotional.
Soon it was time to get back in the airplane and go back to the beach where Andre, Marissa, and the young couple were waiting.
I bid farewell to Sister Mary and to my mother.
As I got back in the plane, the pilot saw that I was crying. “Look man,” I told him, “if you can’t cry when you’re saying good-bye to your mother for the last time, when can you cry?”
He seemed to understand.
Meanwhile, tears started flowing out of my physical body on the beach. A river of non-stop tears flowed from my eyes. Marissa, Andre's wife, saw me crying and asked Andre again and again to do something for me. “No,” he told her, “he’s okay.” Andre’s word was “tranquil.”
Shortly Andre sang, in his beautiful voice, a few songs that I found very comforting.
The tears would not stop rolling out of my eyes even after everyone else on the beach had finished with their auyahuasca journeys. I think I broke all previous records for the number of tears cried by a human being while drinking auyahuasca.
When I stepped out of the plane, I saw my body on the beach and very consciously re-entered it.
After I re-entered my physical body, I started to think about how much time had passed. How long had I been gone? I was convinced that everyone was ready to leave, so I counted twenty slow, deep breaths and then opened my eyes. The colors were extremely bright. One of the women saw me open my eyes. I had been gone for about three hours. “Tom,” she said, “if there is anything we can do for you, we’re here to help.” As she said that, I pulled my scarf over my eyes—the tears would not stop.
When I opened my eyes again, I made sure that I was looking away from the group and towards the ocean—it was so clear, calm, and beautiful.
I got up and walked to the ocean just to get my feet wet. When I came back, I realized that the auyahuasca was still very much in control and that I had to lie back down. Over the next hour, as everyone else swam and talked, in my mind I wrote the eulogy for my mother’s funeral.
Finally, just before the sun went down, we walked down the beach and up the hill to the big house. What a struggle! I would walk-and-rest-on-the-ground, walk-and-collapse-on-the-ground over and over again. When we finally got back to camp, Andre told me to pack up my tent. Half-way through packing the tent, I felt faint and collapsed on top of it. At one point I thought, “What is normal consciousness? Forget normal consciousness guy, it didn't do you any good anyway.”
I wondered how I was going to ride in the car for the drive back to Maceio and then Frances. But then somehow, I did and by the time we reached Frances I was more or less normal.
Time passes quickly here in this little village. I came to Brazil with a bunch of feature films on my computer, thinking that I would pass the time watching movies, but I have yet to watch a single movie. The time passes reading, going to the beach, the Internet Cafe, occasionally going into Maceio to do some shopping, and otherwise just going about the day— eating, doing yoga, meditation, the things that a person always does.
There was a "work" last night. For me, the remarkable thing was that nothing remarkable happened. I drank the same amount of auyahuasca as everyone else, and like everyone else I sat perfectly still all night. That sure beats flopping around like a lab-table frog.
I can't report any big insights. I tried to stay away from daydreaming about my personal history. It was wonderfully relaxing.
When most people were dancing, I sat in full lotus for an hour or so. The party ended at 3:30 in the morning. I came home, slept for three hours, and began my day.
Life can be very sweet.
I left Maceio on February 7 and flew to Lima, Peru, where, after two nights in town, I flew for one hour to the city of Iquitoes to join an "auyahuasca for tourists" retreat. I had registered and paid for it in November when it occurred to me that very possibly I could fly all the way to South America and, if the French had decided not to come to Brazil, have nothing to do.
As I was leaving Brazil, Andre gave me about a third of a liter of auyahuasca as a going away present. I drank it in my hotel room on my second night in Lima. By this time I had confidence in my ability to drink auyahuasca and not go crazy. I drank it and thought about all the poor people I had known. The next morning I wired some money to a charity in India I had once worked for—no reason to waste a charitable moment.
This retreat center was on the bank of an Amazon tributary in the jungle outside of Iquitoes, the city that supplies the Amazonian area of Peru with goods. The center was set up by an American ethnobotanist who had hired a local Peruvian shaman, Don Rober, to run the auyahuasca sessions. Don Rober, 60 going on 18, gives new meaning to the term, "lightness of being."
Although the rituals and ceremony were different, the actual auyahuasca experience was identical.
Don Rober began his ceremonies about 9 PM with a welcoming speech. After that the participants walked up one-by-one to where Don Rober was sitting to receive a cup of auyahuasca. It was bottoms-up right there. When everyone had finished drinking in front of Don Rober, all the candles and kerosene lights would be blown out, leaving us in total darkness in the large mosquito-proof hut. Then, just as the auyahuasca was kicking in, Don Rober would sing what at the time seemed like the most beautiful songs I had ever heard. The songs were icaros, auyahuasca songs. One of which you can listen to here.
The singing continued for the duration of the ceremony, which like the Brazilian ceremonies, can last four or five hours. After an hour or so, participants were welcome to have another glass of brew, but there was never any dancing. At the end of the ceremony Don Rober did "a healing" on whoever had earlier requested it. This involved him chanting and using cigarette smoke and sometimes massage or sucking to remove any spiritual poisons from the person's body. It always felt wonderful.
At the end of the ceremony everyone simply left the meeting room for the dorm rooms. I always missed the fruit and socializing that marked the end of the Brazilian ceremonies.
In the Peruvian system celibacy is thought to enhance the experience as does a diet that doesn't include much salt, sugar, or pork.
We drank three times, that is every other day for the week that I was there. The first time we drank, nothing happened. I wondered if this was really auyahuasca. Our host urged patience. During the second ceremony I had the pleasure of going for a ride in the same airplane that I had ridden in before. By now the captain and the crew seemed like old friends. They took me to meet some of my relatives. I wanted to talk with the younger people—to tell them not to worry about anything. Life would pass just as it should and all too quickly. They shouldn't worry about a thing: marriage, children, love, sex, money, fame, and fortune didn't really matter. Those things would come or not come in their own time. The secret, I told them, was to make the most of the present; enjoy the simple things without comparing their lives to anyone else's. I made a point of holding everyone's hand and touching them. I now know why my own older relatives always tried to do that with me.
The last time I drank auyahuasca in Peru was extraordinary. I'll describe it now in some detail.
The Strangest Phone Call of My Life
When that finished, as usual, as the first person sitting to Don Rober's right, I was the first to drink. Don Rober filled my cup as full as he could fill it and I easily drank it down.
I began by sitting in full lotus. Somehow, to an old yogi like me, that always has some appeal. Shortly, however, the auyahuasca kicked in and I realized that I should lie down. This was going to be strong, very strong.
Immediately my mind started to go back to my past, my family, and unfinished personal issues. “Is there no end to this kind of trivia?” I wondered to myself. I silently vowed just to stick with sensations and visions. In other words, I just wanted to experience the plant and not my own drama. I concentrated on my body, letting the drink heal me in any way it wanted to. The auyahuasca seemed to be taking over.
Just then the wife of the manager handed me her cell phone. With the phone to my ear, I heard the telephone operator ask me if I would accept a long distance call. I said yes, of course. It was my older brother calling to tell me that my mother was dying. That was a surprise. Like a drunk stopped for a speeding ticket, I quickly sobered up. Damn, I thought, now I can forget about this auyahuasca stuff. What an unbelievable coincidence! But life is full of unbelievable coincidences.
With the greatest possible effort I was able to bring my mind back to the present and out of an auyahuasca stupor, but my body was still overtaken by the drug. I couldn’t stand up to walk outside, so I just lay there with the phone to my ear—whispering a few words into the receiver so as not to disturb the other participants. Fortunately, I was near a door and fortunately the creatures of the Amazonian night and Don Rober were both making enough noise that I didn't disturb anyone.
My brother was with my mother in the nursing home in Ohio as she was dying. Often people say they simply “know” when a loved one has died. I tried to find my mother’s heartbeat in psychic space, but couldn’t.
It was a conference call in that my other brother in California was also on the line. We talked about how much our mother had loved us all and that now we would have to do what she wanted which was that we love and help each other. I didn't tell them what I was doing. The auyahuasca, however, was bringing out my sentimental side.
We talked a bit about the practicalities of what to do next. I told them to make all of the arrangements. Certainly, I assured them, I would be able to get on a plane back to Ohio within the next week or so. The call ended with me promising that I would check my e-mail in two days, on Saturday.
Now what to do? There was no reason to leave the ceremony, but if the funeral was in the next week or so, I would have to leave Peru in a few days, and get a flight back to Ohio. Life is full of the unexpected. I decided that when I got back to Ohio I would telephone some of my mother’s friends to say hello and to talk about old times. As I thought about what I would say, tears flowed from my eyes. Buckets of tears.
Presently it occurred to me that it was wonderful that my mother had died when I was taking auyahuasca. My thoughts could expand and, with my heightened awareness, I could more fully understand her death and indeed my own impending death. We are all on this earth for such a short time.
I imagined what I would say at my mother’s funeral. I thought of funny stories and gradually outlined my own life as I told people my memories of my mother. How she must have worried when I was sick on an isolated island in the South Pacific and later when I was in Cambodia as the civil war there was ending.
The auyahuasca ceremony continued. It seemed to me that Don Rober and the manager must have known about my mother’s death, but that they had decided I should finish the ceremony.
Tears and more tears.
When the tears stopped, I wondered if it was possible that the auyahuasca had caused me to imagine the entire phone call. No, I thought, that's impossible — for one thing my hand was in the same position that it had been when I had held the cell phone in it.
But could I have imagined it? To erase any doubt, at the end of the ceremony I asked the man sitting just to the left of Don Rober if anyone had received a phone call during the ceremony. No, he said, there hadn’t been any calls.
Suddenly, frighteningly so, it became clear that I had imagined the entire thing! At first I thought that I had wasted the evening, that I had been tricked. But then I realized that along with all the crying had been a tremendous inner cleansing. The auyahuasca had given me, even though I had resisted it, just what I needed.
Two weeks after my last auyahuasca session in Peru, I checked back into my guesthouse in Frances, Brazil and walked down to the auyahuasca center where the fechaw, pronounced, fay-chow, the yearly two-week party where they make a year's supply of auyahuasca was just beginning.
On the grounds of the center is a large oven that looks a bit like a traditional wood pizza oven. At the top of the oven, at ground level, are two holes that are just big enough to fit two 30-gallon stainless steel pots. Now, for the first time, I saw boiling in those pots auyahuasca, and the plant that releases the power of the auyahuasca, chacruna.
The fechaw is very much a team effort. One man tends to the fire below the two pots, while above him two men stir the pots. Other people clean the leaves of the chacruna and ground up the auyahuasca vine itself. The party would continue for most of the day and night for two weeks.
Often, I saw, they boiled the auyahuasca tea, poured some out and bottled it, and then added new water to the auyahuasca mixture. At other times they cooked down the auyahuasca tea until it became as thick as honey. Because this is Brazil, usually someone was singing while playing a drum or guitar. It is hot, smoky, dirty and hard work, but the whole mood stayed festive. People had come from all over Brazil to participate.
I met a few people who make their living growing and then selling the ingredients to make the auyahuasca. Everyone was warm and friendly.
That night there was a formal ceremony to mark the beginning of the fechaw. As usual everyone walked up to the altar to receive a glass of auyahuasca and as always Andre made a toast wishing us peace, tranquility, and love, and then we all drank together, before sitting back down. I was very happy to be back, but I didn't experience anything. I was just too tired and too exhausted from the plane rides and days of very little sleep.
On Sunday and Monday I learned that many of people were drinking auyahuasca two or three times a day. This was, everyone said, a very special time. Thusly inspired, on Tuesday I decided that I would drink auyahuasca at nine o'clock in the morning.
Because it was so freshly made, it went down remarkably easily—the taste wasn't bad at all. I then found a quiet corner of the compound, spread out my mat, took out my MP3 player, and had a very wonderful two hours listing to music and feeling utterly at peace.
I thought about my Cambodian friends. I know many Cambodians from my years in the refugee camps and later from 18 months in Cambodia. They all had suffered incredibly under the Khmer Rouge. One of my best friends told me that he had woken up with nightmares every morning for the first ten years after he escaped from the Khmer Rouge. A Cambodian woman in the US told me that I would never know how much she had cried after she had resettled in the USA. According to her, the movies and books about life under the Khmer Rouge were all by or about people who had had it easy.
I resolved to write them and tell them that there was a way that they could stop all their mental pain and at last be ready to die in peace. What a relief, I thought over and over again, to be able to die at peace with the world.
When I stood up again, one of the visitors, who is a professional masseuse, volunteered to give me a massage. That was a treat. Brazilian massage involves breathing with the masseuse as he pulls you, stretches you, and rubs you. This masseuse had very strong confident hands. When he finished I was in utter bliss.
Who could imagine a more pleasant morning?
I went back that night expecting to do the same thing I had in the morning but I got a big surprise. Instead of experiencing bliss, less than an hour after I drank the auyahuasca, I had the sensation that I had dengue fever or even malaria. At first I was very cold and then very hot. Finally the body fell into a series of painful contortions. I thought that possibly the auyahuasca and the fruit juice I had drunk that afternoon were having some kind of very negative chemical reaction in my stomach or perhaps I had actually picked up malaria in Peru that was now manifesting. Maybe I had dengue fever, malaria, and food poisoning!
I was in a quiet corner of the center, lying down. After more than one of the longest hours of my life, one of the men who was helping to brew the auyahuasca stopped by to ask me how I was. My voice wasn't working, but I could whisper that I wasn't good at all. Could he, I asked, help me stand up? Fortunately he was built like a cement mixer. He stood me up like I was a little doll, helped me out of my jacket, sat me in a comfortable chair, and got me a glass or water. Sitting there in the chair, for most of an hour, I could hold hands with different people and otherwise get some support. The Brazilians can be very saintly.
Andre was there overseeing the making of the auyahuasca. When he asked me how I was, I asked him to help me to my feet and then, once on my feet, I was able to do walking meditation in the driveway for an hour or so. Slowly I started to feel better.
It was now midnight. Andre decided that this was the perfect time for the musicians to take out their guitars and drums and that everyone, including me, should drink more auyahuasca.
I took his advice and by the end of the evening I felt remarkably better.
Looking back, as I write this the next day, naturally, after all this time, I know that the auyahuasca will wear off after a few hours but last night those few hours felt like an eternity.
In retrospect too, I realize why even though I felt like I was on the edge of death, I was treated like someone whose foot has fallen asleep or has eaten too much pizza: the Brazilians know that no one will die from the auyahuasca and indeed, no matter how sick someone appears to be right now, in a few hours he or she will be fine.
Walking to the internet café in the mid-afternoon I said hello to two men from the center who were eating in one of the small shops that can be found in this town. They said that soon we would be having a very special night. They were right.
The ceremony started late, about 9 pm. The auyahuasca went down so easily that initially I wondered if there was any power in it. Andre immediately started singing and kept at it for much longer than usual as if he wanted to guide us to a very special place. He also wanted to, I felt, do something special for the people who where helping, 24-hours-a-day, to make the auyahuasca. It was a very big job and people needed to feel that they and this work were special.
Soon any doubts I had about the strength of the auyahuasca vanished and I started to wonder if he hadn’t laced it with LSD.
Three women came out of nowhere and stood near me as I sat in the plastic chair. I heard them talking. “Look at him, isn’t he beautiful?” one of them said.
I nodded. Some of the Brazilian women are suckers for men with blue eyes.
"Can he really do yoga?" one of them asked.
I smiled. Sometimes, even if you are drinking auyahuasca, it's nice to have women flirt with you.
After that, I started to see fantastic patterns of middle-American art. It, however, didn’t particularly interest me.
Meanwhile Andre, for the first time since the formal ceremonies at the first of the year, walked through the crowd and, using his castanets, gave everyone the wonderful experience of hearing a thousand locusts fly by.
By now I was very much in the land of auyahuasca bliss, but I felt that as long as I sitting in the chair I would never be able to relax enough to let the real healing power of the auyahuasca begin. So I got up and found a place to lie down.
Immediately I had the sensation of thousands of marching ants or tiny praying mantises insects moving from the top of my head to my feet. I looked and saw that the personal issues that had arisen in past auyahuasca sessions were now resolved. There was nothing left to cry about and nothing to be afraid of or regret. The past was truly past and the mind was calm, clear and happy.
Just as I sensed that the most intense part of my own auyahuasca experience was ending, Andre signaled that now was time for the music to begin. The musicians went into the house to get their instruments—guitars, bongos, a tambourine, and a wooden flute. One of the men stood alone for a few minutes holding his guitar high over his head— letting the full moon that was shining brightly overhead cleanse him and his guitar.
The music, as always, was wonderful.
Feeling stronger now, I got up, spread a mat on the grass, and sat in meditation. It was very clear, wonderfully clear. After an hour, not wanting to injure my knees again, I stood up to stretch. Just then Andre brought the session to a close and everyone clapped.
Could anyone imagine a more perfect night?
Last night I went back to the center, thinking that I would have another wonderful experience. But with this plant, I’ve found, you can go to heaven one day and hell the next.
There wasn't a formal ceremony, but this being the fechaw, anyone could, under Andre's supervision, drink any time. Andre gave me a big glass of the same brew that we had all drank together the night before. To get away from the crowd, I found some space on the porch of the house and sat in meditation until the full power of the auyahuasca kicked in and I realized that I could no longer sit up.
I stretched out, but instead of things getting better, they got worse. I was going to vomit.
I found a quiet corner of the yard to get sick in, but I couldn't vomit. Now what? Too weak to sit up and too nauseous to lie down, I decided that I’d better walk.
I stumbled outside to the sand road in front of the center and started pacing back and forth. My knees throbbed like someone had just hit them with a cricket bat and my right shoulder felt like it had been dislocated in a car crash. Plus the general feeling of nausea continued.
After a long time it started to rain. So I went back inside the compound and walked back in forth along one side of the dining area. Andre’s mother was there, sitting at a table talking to some friends—I took her hand and placed it on my heart. She sensed that I needed some support and gave me her blessing. I needed it.
I kept walking. A few of the people wondered how I was. My voice wasn't working so I whispered, “Strong. Very strong.” They knew that I was talking about the auyahuasca. A few times I wrapped my arms around people who were eating or who had come to the kitchen for a glass of water. I needed to feel people who were "normal."
Finally one man, sitting in a chair, gave me his hand and signaled that I should lean back and holding his hand, put my weight into stretching my arm and pulling his hand as if I was trying to pull him out of his chair. I immediately felt an immense surge of healing energy pass from his arm, up my arm, and into me.
A few minutes later a woman who speaks good English was passing by. I still couldn’t speak, but I was able to whisper, “Please ask him to do that again, but use the other arm.”
This time he stood up and had me stretch both arms out straight, in a T. He pulled one arm and asked someone else to pull the other, effectively crucifying me. I relaxed and pushed my arms out straight. This time even more energy surged from their hands, up my arms, and through my entire body. I closed my eyes and felt red and blue energy pulsing through me.
I let that continue for a minute and then signaled that they could ease up.
“Amazing,” I said. “I can’t believe it.”
“And your voice is back,” the woman who could speak English said.
Suddenly all of the discomfort vanished. I wasn’t totally normal, but I felt much better. This was a surprise.
Now for the first time, I didn’t feel like doing meditation, I felt like enjoying the company of the people there. So that’s what I did—everyone seemed happy and glad to talk to me.
I met one man who, for no reason that I could tell, tried to explain Brazil to me. He said that here there is a mixture of European, African, and Native American cultures which makes Brazil the most interesting country in the world. That was the good part. The bad part was that the Europeans came here with the idea of raping the land and the people for everything they could steal. He said that now some of those old colonial ideas still poison the Brazilian consciousness.
He asked me a few questions about where I was from and what I did. I told him and then he asked me if Brazilians were exotic to me. I told him no.
Everyone I've met here seems perfectly un-exotic, which is why I feel so comfortable here. Everyone I've met shares my ideas about personal property, privacy, morality and all of that. And unlike so many places I've visited, here lots of people are vegetarians, ecologically conscious, interested in yoga, and feel that they are on a path to enlightenment. Thinking about it, because I find the Brazilians so normal, I can't ever be bothered to write much about them.
The fechaw, or week of making auyahuasca continues. Last night was a formal meeting.
At 8:30 or so, Andre rang a bell and people moved into the open dining area to sit in the comfortable plastic chairs. Like an astronaut about to go into outer space, I shook hands with many people before we drank; we all wished each other well.
Before it began, Andre, asked everyone to try to stay as silent as possible especially during the first part of the meeting—the time when he usually sings and prays out loud.
The tension was building. Everyone gave each other a nervous smile.
Andre asked me if I wanted a strong glass of auyahuasca. I said that I was open for anything. He then gave me what he was giving most people—about like two whiskey shot glasses of "tea." There was, however, one long-time auyahuasca drinker who drank much more than anyone else—he drank a big glass of honey. When I saw him do that, shivers went down my spine and I squirmed uncomfortably in my chair. God help that guy, I thought to myself.
Always initially the auyahuasca is a tremendous shock for my body – it takes my breath away and then thoughts seem to stop for a while as the body and mind adjust.
I thought, how much better drinking together in a group like this is than drinking alone. The last time I drank I was alone, I ended up sitting on the ground beside two people in hammocks, one of whom was snoring like a train.
The power of the auyahuasca started to manifest. I saw the usual patterns of middle-American art and then thought about some old friends and how much I loved them. This was, I realized, an excellent opportunity to share loving thoughts with everyone I knew. Naturally a few people presented a challenge—to a normal person they are simply totally unlikable— but I sent love to them anyway. That is, I pictured everyone I could think of, and mentally said, “I love you.” Whew.
A few minutes later I had to get up to vomit. Just outside the dining area is a patch of sand where, I’ve been told, its okay to wretch. I stumbled to that place, unfortunately, however, by this time I was hallucinating so much that it was very difficult to see where I was. The ground looked like it was covered with a blue glowing net. Damn, I thought as I collapsed on the ground, this has to be the place.
I couldn’t vomit. Several times I gagged myself, but nothing would come out. It is impossible to feel any worse than I feel right now. I resolved to stop drinking auyahuasca. I’m too old for this shit. Let the young people do this. It's too late for me. I quit.
I started convulsing and one of my knees started throbbing. A few times I thought that someone—seeing me convulsing—had come to help and was standing over me. I looked around though and there was no one there. But more than once one of the people sitting in the chairs looked around at me and wondered what was going on. I must have looked like I had just been hit by a car and then bitten by a rattle snake. A few times I felt as if strong hands were twisting my stomach and chest in different directions.
Oh, shit, either I’m going to lay here in totally misery looking like I’m a victim of strychnine poisoning or I’m somehow going get up and start walking.
With great difficulty I pulled myself to my feet. I must have looked like someone who has just been slugged in the face with a knock-out punch after drinking way too much alcohol. My knees felt like someone had just smashed them with a hammer and my shoulder felt like it had been dislocated.
Somehow though I didn’t fall down. With great difficulty, I walked back and forth in the driveway.
Andre was singing, but the energy coming from him and the other people was too much. I couldn’t look.
I kept walking. There weren’t any strong thoughts, just total body and mental misery. It occurred to me that perhaps I was disturbing people by my movement, so I found a place between some parked cars where I was sure no one would see me. Just then I saw, standing between the cars, the man who had earlier sent shivers down my spine when I saw how much auyahuasca he was drinking. Now he was looking up at the sky and praying. If anyone had the power of prayer, it was him. He seemed to be in direct contact with God.
I found a nearby tree and peed on it.
Andre sang for another hour or so. When he stopped some people got up to walk around the compound, go to the toilet, etc. I saw one particularly big man sitting on the porch changing his shirt and looking like he was doing okay. I went up to him and silently signaled that he could help me. He nodded. I had him stand sideways to me and straighten his arm. I then held his giant hand and leaned backwards as if I was trying to pull him over. I felt a surge of energy go up my arm and re-align the energy flow in my own body. I held the tension for a minute and then gave him the thumbs up sign. I felt tremendously better and thanked him.
Now the walking was much steadier and I found a place where I could take twenty or so steps before turning around. This was good.
I started to reflect on the teachings of the Buddha. He taught that there is no enduring self, no soul if you will. I sensed what he meant—we are simply bodies with consciousness plugged into them. And one day the body and the consciousness will stop. There is really not so much to this life. As Buddha said, everything that is concocted passes.
I then thought about any advice I would give to Buddhist meditators who wanted to drink auyahuasca or try iboga. This is what I came up with.
I kept walking. Eventually I realized that the auyahuasca was slowly leaving my system. The mind was calming down. Just at that time, the live music started.
I found a quiet place to sit and pulled myself up to half-lotus. I sat motionless for an hour. My concentration was almost perfect. I could feel the space between each vertebra of my spine and at other times I could feel the energy moving from the crown of my head to my feet.
I stopped sitting just as Andre called everyone together for a closing ceremony.
What a night. Everyone agreed that it had been very special.
Yesterday Andre invited a Swiss woman, Camille, who came here last week, and me to do a "breathing exercise" at his compound.
When we got there I saw the man who on Sunday night had frightened me when I saw him drink the huge class of honey. He said that Sunday had been his birthday, so he had wanted to do something very special.
"Would you do it again?" I asked.
"Not for a very long time." (It would be a year before he had the nerve to drink any ayahuasca again.)
Our breathing work began at 9:30 in the morning with a big hit of auyahuasca. Andrea told us just to rest quietly and listen to music for 15 minutes while the auyahuasca kicked in.
Camille was assisted by Andre and a young woman assisted me. “Assisting” consisted of reminding us to breathe deeply. We proceeded to enter a different world that was initially calm and peaceful. Soon though my body contorted and my arms started flapping around. Sometimes I forgot to breathe and sometimes I couldn’t breathe at all. The woman watching over me massaged the insoles of my feet in a very soothing way to try to calm me down.
After a very uncomfortable hour of contortions, I realized that either I could stay prone and miserable or get up and walk. I got up to walk. Walking meant pacing back and forth on the four-meter long porch. A few minutes later though Andre, who was tenderly helping Camille by placing one hand on her forehead and one hand on her stomach, asked me to lie back down. I signaled to the woman who was watching over me that if I was to lie down, she had to help me.
She did. She massaged the top of my head in a very special way. I then took her hand and pressed it hard on top of my heart. She kept me calm. At one point she positioned herself behind me, very gently rubbing the top of my head. If there ever was a woman who has a heavenly touch, it was her.
When she sensed that I was calm, she left. I stayed there for a few minutes and then started to do more walking.
Camille stayed lying down for a long time. Eventually though she sat up and told me what a wonderful experience she had just had. My head was still exploding to the point that I had wrapped a long scarf tightly around my head to literally try to "keep my head together." After a few minutes Andre came back. He wanted us to do one more drug, hap-pay. I told him to get the hell away from me—I had had enough of drugs for one day. Camille, however, was open to new experiences, so she tried it and then urged me to do it. I relented. Andre had a vial of a special black powder hap-pay. He said that he had obtained this directly from Amazonian Indians and that it contained no tobacco. Instead, he said, it contained special herbs that could open up the crown chakra, the top of one's head.
Well, whatever. I nodded. Andre had a small V-shaped pipe. He filled one end with powder and put that end in his mouth. He put the other end of the pipe up my nose. He then exhaled while I inhaled. He was right — I felt the top of my head lift off. Jesus Christ! Wasn't one drug enough? Was I trying to completely destroy my brain?
Camille and I were now in a separate reality. The world existed, but there were only two people in it—Camille and me.
It took us both more than another hour for the auyahuasca and the magic powder to leave our systems enough for us to leave our separate realities and re-join everyone else at the center. Just then lunch was served. We ate a little and then, still feeling more bonded than gibbons, walked to the beach for a swim.
What an amazing day.
My Brazilian visa is expiring. It has been almost three months since I first tasted the "vine of the Gods." In the Buddhist tradition three months, "a rains retreat" is considered to be a good length of time to do spiritual practice. And so it has been.
I drank auyahuasca for the last time yesterday. Actually I did a double hitter. The idea was that we would begin with just a little auyahuasca on Monday night and Tuesday morning we were to round things out with a "work" at the beach.
All the people here have been very interested in what I've had to tell them about Peru and Don Rober. So last night, with just a few of us at the center, Andre served us auyahuasca and then had us sit in total darkness and listen to the CD of auyahuasca songs that I brought back from Peru. Everyone seemed to enjoy it. I sat in the meditation posture for the whole time and for the whole time I once again thought of the people in my life and wished each of them well. This kind of meditation called metta is popular in Southeast Asia and there are even metta masters who say that they practice this style of meditation only. One of the Asian metta masters claims that he hasn't felt any anger for more than 30 years. For me the last three months have been so extraordinarily wonderful that now it is easy for me to spend a lot of time wishing other people well. I can't imagine that my own life could be much better.
Always when I come back to the guesthouse after drinking auyahuasca I turn on my MP3 player and listen to New Age music, most of it is from Andre. The only strange thing is that I'll fall asleep listening to music and six hours later I'll wake up on my back in the exact same position.
Following Andre's directions, Camille and I were back at the center at nine o'clock the next morning to begin part two. After doing auyahuasca in the breathing exercise and bonding in a separate reality, we had become the best of friends.
Anyway, when we arrived most people were still sleeping. Never mind, presently people got up, washed, put on clothes, and soon it was time to drink auyahuasca. I felt relieved when Camille told me that she, even after years of drinking auyahuasca, still gets nervous every time she drinks. Many of the Brazilians feel the same way—no one knows where the plant will take them when they drink.
There were only six of us but as always, Andre had us ritually stand together in our beach attire, poured us each a glass of auyahuasca, said a prayer, and signaled that it was bottoms up. I had a box of throat lozenges with me which I shared with everyone to take the auyahuaca-induced winces off their faces. None of the long time auyahuasca-drinkers likes the taste anymore than I do.
We immediately left for the beach. Recently the coconut thatch sunshade blew down in a storm so the only shade was a beach umbrella that Andrea brought with him. It didn't go very far with six people trying to crowd under it. I had a small rain umbrella with me that I tried to use to protect myself from the sun as I sat in the meditation posture, but it didn't work very well and anyway soon the strength of the auyahuasca forced me to lay down. I closed my eyes and then for the first time ever I started to get horrific visions of electric worms and psychedelic snakes. What was that? Soon, however, there was more. Once again I got the feeling that I was coming down with malaria, dengue fever, typhoid, food poisoning and that I had just been bitten by a rattlesnake. Oh my God what could be worse than this?
One thing became immediately clear: lying down on the beach was not an option. Using mind over matter, I pulled myself to my feet and, using my umbrella to protect me from the sun, I started to do walking meditation away from the group. I walked high up on the beach, close to the dune. It was god-awful hot, I felt miserable, and I was having wild hallucinations. Everywhere I looked in the sand there were now huge numbers of giant marching ants and even with my umbrella and sunglasses I felt like I was going snow blind. I walked back and forth on top of the marching ants and past a woman who was lying naked on the beach. What the hell? I bent down for a closer look — the naked woman was a piece of seaweed. I kicked it out of my path. I wondered if it was possible for a human being to possibly feel any worse. I thought of my iboga guru, Andrea, and of Don Rober. I imagined how strong and calm they always were and tried to bring some of that strength and calm into myself. It wasn't working very well.
But maybe I wasn't the only one having a difficult time. Later I realized that somehow Andre had intuited what was going on and decided that he would help get us from outer space back to earth.
I was called back to the beach umbrella where Andre was sitting. By this time I was so far in outer space that it was impossible for me to look at anyone's face. I just couldn't. So I knelt down and pressed my forehead into the sand at Andre's feet. With my hands I grasped Andre's ankles to try to ground myself. Camille asked me if I was okay; I said no.
Andrea explained that he was going to sing a magic prayer that had recently been channeled to him from another Brazilian auyahuasca master. It couldn't have taken him five minutes to sing the prayer but by the time he finished I was remarkably, incredibly, amazingly, better. When he stopped singing I lifted my head up out of the sand and, now that I was able to, looked at Andre. He appeared to be glowing. With one hand I walked my fingers across the sand and then pointed to myself. Andre nodded, it was okay for me to leave the group and start my walking again. I felt so good that I didn't walk away from the ocean but down to it. I walked along the beach and let the waves break at my feet.
It was a beautiful day. On the beach were families with children, farther out were some surfers and one man was parasailing. I looked across the waves and for the first time it occurred to me that directly across the ocean at virtually the same latitude was Gabon. I thought about the people who had traveled with me there. At the time we had thought that nothing could be more intense or more life-changing than iboga. Now I knew that auyahuasca was equally powerful.
One of the people who went with me to Africa had been, everyone believed, the victim of black magic. The black magic didn't kill her but she had many unexplainable medical problems and more than her share of family problems. I prayed for her and wished her well.
I walked along the beach for a long time. Finally Camille came down the beach and together we went swimming. She told me that I looked like an African shaman. She is in her early 40s but just then she looked 10 years old. Swimming with her, now that we had once again become auyahuasca-bonded was incredible. The ocean was now a giant massage machine, that, if we held onto each other tightly, we could enjoy more than any massage we had ever had.
After swimming, looking like crazy teenagers, we met Andre again. We told him that we wanted to go to the village and get something to eat. He cautioned us, saying that we were spiritually in a very special and fragile place. We should, he said, stay away from the crowds.
Now what? We were both, well, stoned out of our minds. We walked back to the guesthouse, showered, and walked out onto the blazing tropical sun. On the way to a local restaurant to avoid the crowds, we walked on the side streets and, for the first time in almost three months in Frances, I got lost! Eventually, however we found a restaurant, and with some difficulty ordered and ate lunch.
I would read later that sometimes people have experiences like these and the experience is so incredibly powerful that the people who have them become convinced that their partner is their eternal soul mate. Some people even get married only later to discover that they have married the wrong person. Fortunately, however, Camille was experienced with the world of magic plants and took a wise and meditative stance to everything.
Nevertheless, it was with some sadness that I said good-bye to her and Andre a few days later.
Two months after that I was able to spend 10 days in silent meditation in a meditation center in Thailand. There I found that the restlessness that had plagued me for years during meditation was gone. Gone too, as far as I could tell in ten days of meditation, were the painful memories that had followed me all of my adult life.