I’ve just returned from a stay in a beautiful slice of jungle paradise, nestled somewhere in the South American rainforest.
Over the course of seven days, I drank the ancient brew named ayahuasca five times, was whipped with a prickly jungle leaf called Ortiga twice, vomited more than I have in my entire life, and was completely reborn.
I was led to plant medicine when I became fed up with being incredibly bored by the life that I was living and sick of my repetitive, isolated culture. I was deeply disappointed with my prospects of adulthood and I couldn’t bear the thought of living in a world devoid of magic.
I began to surround myself with nature—a place where I had always been able to find serenity and connection.
Much to my surprise, the Earth began to speak to me, comforting my depression with mountain air and rolling thunder. She gave me gifts of plants that could teach and people who could help me to understand them. I was a lost child, and she took me by the hand and led me home.
I heard about ayahuasca through whispered rumors among my group of “tripping buddies.” I was told stories of her healing powers, but I did not ever expect to drink the medicine. I was terrified by what I had heard about the intense visions and the prospect of the grueling, infamous purge.
Yet, less than two weeks ago, by a chain of mysterious and magical events, I found myself sitting before three shamans in a circular hut at 5 a.m., my shaking hands holding a small bowl filled with a thick brown liquid that smelled like really gross wine.
I gulped the brew, thanked the shamans and returned to my mat. Although I didn’t know what to expect, I was certain the plant would be gentle with my delicate self.
Within an hour, I was face down in the dirt, completely puking my guts out. I have never felt more sick in my entire life. The jungle was swirling around me as my mind lit up with beautiful images and brutally honest lessons.
I was completely lost in a psychedelic world, and the voice of ayahuasca made it very clear that I was cleansing my body and mind from years of self-doubt, hatred and ignorance, but was absolutely certain I was about to die.
Yet, even as I experienced this miserable state, I felt like a baby in the arms of her mother. There was no punishment, only consequence for the decisions I had made and the paths I had taken.
For hours I lay outside on beautiful, grassy knoll. Trees bent over me, laden with flowers, and I began to stop resisting the purging that continued to come. I had asked to connect with nature, and I saw that I was being connected to all of her aspects: The disgusting, painful, harsh, beautiful and complete reality of my own mortality.
Everyone else left for lunch, except one shaman who coaxed me back inside and sat patiently while I lay on my mat, slipping in and out of lucidity.
After 20 minutes, like magic, I felt perfectly fine. I sat up, and she came over to help me stand. My arm around her shoulder, we walked to the kitchen where I ate enough of the delicious, homemade food to feed a small army.
Still seeing geometric patterns and slightly tripping out, I was told that we would be having another ceremony in seven hours.
Surprisingly, I couldn’t wait to have my ass kicked again.
That night, I did not expect that I could possibly need to purge more, but 20 minutes after I drank from the cup, I was outside kneeling on the ground.
Yet this experience was entirely different. I was transported to the stars, while still aware of my body. As I purged, I felt new spaces opening up in my being. They were filled with the purest love I had ever felt. I began to see that as I gave up my attachment to old beliefs, patterns and stories about myself, I made room for the connections that I had been asking to find. The only way I can describe that night is to say that I made love with the entire universe for eight hours. I was transformed into a jeweled star goddess, crowned with grace and divinity.
I remember saying, “My third-eye is wide open and I’m never closing it” as I saw crystalline geometry and danced without moving a muscle. I laughed and sighed as one lesson after another fell into place. Mother Ayahuasca turned my cheeks to velvet and my eyes to galaxies. I lay in the hut, just feeling my skin and seeing all the ways I had not been loving my beautiful body. I felt one with the cosmos and saw the exquisite beauty in the duality of our world. My mind kept singing, “I forget so I can remember.” And the remembrance of this Love was beautiful.
The next three ceremonies unveiled to me different aspects of myself that I had been ignoring, suppressing and denying. I realized that I had been going to everything—books, articles, videos, fellow humans and even drugs, but never to myself for guidance.
I was shown that in my fear, I had created a safe shell around myself and filled it with a dreamworld, convincing myself that it was reality. I had been given everything that I had ever asked for, but my shell had not allowed me to receive these gifts. I did not want to feel pain and so I wouldn’t let myself grow.
But that day, beneath the warm sun, I began to hatch into something more complete.
It is easy to love light and beautiful things, I realized, but I had been focusing so much on this light and beauty that I had allowed my dark side to fester in the shadows. There were ugly pieces of me that I was denying while professing to accept myself. This made me believe that I had to be beautiful to be loved and resulted in me spending hours in front of mirrors, criticizing and trying to hide my imperfections.
At one point during my fourth ceremony, right after a bout of purging, a friend walked by and asked how I was doing. With vomit and dirt covering my face, I smiled and said, “Amazing. I am learning how to be ugly” He smiled and said, “At last.”
During the final ceremony, it began to rain. I cried with the downpour and let it wash away all of the lies I had been telling myself. Here I am: naked, confessing that I have lied, stolen, cheated, inflicted pain and shattered beautiful things.
And I love myself anyway.
I am being taught how to hold a space of balance for myself. Allowing all of my facets to be loved is a constant choice for now, but I am committed to surrendering to this love over and over again. “I am finished fighting this endless battle against myself,” I scrawled in my journal. I meant it.
On the plane home I wrote:
“I think the most precious thing I have been given is the ability to love and be loved more deeply. It was like being carried home to the nest, held under my mother’s wing, against her heart, then set free to fly away again and become lost in the world. We have forgotten how to be unconditionally loved and it is the wound we are all trying to hide. Thank you, mother, for breathing me into life and then drawing me back to death. I get lost so you can find me, forget so you’ll remind me: I’m a child of the dark and light.”
I’ll be returning to that magical paradise again, but first I have some things to do at home. I am going to spread this love as far and wide as I can reach. I am going to stop wasting my precious life through laziness and start blazing my own path through this jungle of existence. I will rise with gratitude, fall with grace, and above all, keep falling in love with this glorious, wild ride.