Tag Archives: ayahuasca – ´shadow´ work

“Grandma take me home” >>> relating to Ayahuasca

"I promise, by the time you finish that cookie..."

“I promise, by the time you finish that cookie…”

***Note: this post forms part of a series which explores how our quick-fix fantasy affects the Ayahuasca process. This post is part 3.

Here is part 1: The Antidote – an introduction

And part 2: Humping the Antidote

Some people reduce Ayahuasca to a bundle of chemicals, a wonder medicine that resolves imbalances in the psycho-physical information system known as a human being. Others regard Ayahuasca as a wise, divine discarnate grandmother spirit who operates independently of your will but has your best interests at heart. Either way, if these metaphors / theories are driven by the antidote fantasy (our desire for a quick-fix to the symptoms of our problems), we believe the drug or ‘grandmother’ either acts on the passive recipient, or it/she does not. The patient has little or no responsibility for their experience both during and after the ceremony. This can substantially affect your relationship with Ayahuasca and limit your potential for meaningful long-term transformation.

— “Grandma, take me home. Show me what I need to be shown. Take me out of my suffering. I know they say you are not a magic bullet, but maybe for me you can be?” —

We have had people with depression who (after a single ceremony) complain that Ayahuasca isn’t working because their prayer to “heal the depression” [through by-passing their emotions] was not answered:

— “I tried asking Ayahuasca to heal my depression, but I just got really angry and couldn’t focus because of the fucking singing and I didn’t have visions. And now it’s the next day and I still feel angry. I think the Ayahuasca is weak.” —

Initially this kind of patient may have had a strong intention to heal, yet when they arrive at the retreat, they secretly believe that Ayahuasca would do the work for them, and that either it (the drug/genie) is going to work or it is not. So they do nothing to strengthen their intention or prayer for change during the retreat and secretly brood in distrust of the process (which contributes to them being more closed).

Now their (apparent) lack of progress could be explained by a physical blockage, or the drug not being strong enough, or because the grandmother has not yet heard the patient’s cry for help, or the shaman is incompetent, or bad spirits or black magic are blocking the process. Each of these interpretations seeks to explain the same thing from a different point of view, and there may be truth to each one, but the problem is that, if any of these theories is relied upon exclusively, the patient is reduced to a passive spectator in the healing process and ultimately this can be unhelpful (especially for long-term healing outcomes).

Before we entertain ideas about the strength of the Ayahuasca or black magic, etc, we have to realize that what the participant does with their focus and internal resources during the ceremony will always bear on their experience (even if other factors are at play, eg, negative energies). In this example, the participant did not realize that this was the way that Ayahuasca was trying to relate to him about his depression, that the anger was a defence that he used in his life to avoid feeling afraid, weak, vulnerable, ashamed, etc. But he was not taking responsibility for his healing by engaging with Ayahuasca. So she was encouraging him to be vulnerable, to open to what his anger had to teach him, but because he was treating Ayahuasca like a drug or a genie that would take away his pain, he was not listening to her, failed to understand her language, had no patience and couldn’t trust in her intelligence.

If he had continued to ignore this anger, he might have purged a lot of tension associated with it in subsequent ceremonies, and perhaps he would feel wonderful (temporarily), but he would be unlikely to change his relationship to his thoughts and emotions long-term. He may even become attached to this good feeling and return to drink Ayahuasca to “get it back”. But feeling good is not the same thing as being healed. So this habit pattern of his – to disconnect or become angry when faced with an emotion, then reach for a drug to feel better – could have co-opted the Ayahuasca process in its service. This happens more than you may think.

In addition, this kind of person would be unlikely to integrate any wisdom he did receive from Ayahuasca because “either the drug / genie has worked, or it has not”. As long as he relates to Ayahuasca like some antidote to the symptoms of his problems, he will not respect and trust her intelligence, take responsibility for his process, listen to her subtle communications with him, be vulnerable enough to face his darkness, or sufficiently committed to integrate his experiences over the long-term.

There is a metaphor for the Ayahuasca experience that reconciles both the existence of chemicals and the subjective perception of spirits while still allowing for responsibility of the patient, and that is


— a relationship, a spiritual communion guided by the heart —

Ayahuasca is a chemical brew, but she is also the grandmother, just as Geronimo is Geronimo, but he is also a bundle of chemicals exchanging excited electrical impulses and a constellation of funky fluids with Gladys and Cecil. In either case, if we are interested in evolution, we should realize we are in a relationship.

Now I must confess something: I have occasionally thought of Ayahuasca as being like the Oracle from the Matrix movies. She is composed of information-carrying molecules but she is also a being, and you would be unlikely to gain her favour if you consistently treated her like a lifeless hologram. And of course, as anyone who has related to her enough will know, she sometimes tells you what you need to hear for the growth of your spirit, even if it is not the literal or absolute truth.

Such a relationship requires engagement, or participation by the patient. Below are just a few ideas for positive or healthy ways to engage in any relationship which I have seen people apply to Ayahuasca, often automatically. This is not intended to be some exhaustive manual for how to relate to Ayahuasca, a fixed set of concepts to grasp and try to “do”. For many people who work intelligently with Ayahuasca much of this will be a description of what they naturally do without thinking about it at all. This is only meant to disarm unhelpful ways of relating, and stimulate the parts of you already relating healthily to go deeper in that direction.



1. Respect

2. Responsibility

3. Listening

4. Vulnerability

5. Sense of humour

6. Trust, surrender, acceptance

7. Commitment

*** a word on over-fiddling…

*** Expectations Test


1. Respect

Respect is the basis of any healthy relationship and many other harmonious and productive ways of relating naturally flow from the energy of respect.

Of course respect is something that must be earned. I would say that, if you were to take anything away from the miraculous healing stories surrounding Ayahuasca, it could be that Ayahuasca is at least worthy of respect; her willingness and power to help people help themselves should be enough for us to pause and consider relating to her respectfully. How might you relate to an extra-terrestrial psychotherapist who was famous for helping many people, who knows you better than you know yourself, but who uses radical methods in her practice?

It might be interesting to think about what kinds of ways of relating would follow from you feeling respect for the intelligence of Ayahuasca. For me, respectfully relating means at least trying:

  • to trust her intelligence, even if I don’t understand how she works with me consciously;
  • to drop my expectations and be present;
  • to listen, be receptive to all of the ways she communicates with me, without trying to impose my ideas or desires over the things she is trying to show me;
  • to accept / surrender to her wisdom, to honour what she presents me with;
  • to put into practice each day the things she shows me;
  • to be patient with her;
  • to be completely honest with myself and my feelings and share this with her, ie, to be vulnerable with her;
  • to notice and be grateful for the ways she helps me instead of continually focusing on what she has not yet helped me with;
  • not to rely on her as an emotional crutch or using her in an abusive or dependent manner;
  • to understand and respect her traditions of use;
  • not to compare my relationship with her to the relationship she has with another person;
  • not to treat her like a lifeless antidote drug that will air-lift me from pain to pleasure;
  • not to treat her like a magical antidote grandma genie that will air-lift me from pain to pleasure;
  • taking responsibility for my healing process before, during and after the ceremony.

Of course these ways of relating will be unique to each person. Perhaps respect to you means something different. The point is not to have some conceptual list of appropriate relationship characteristics, but to feel in your heart what naturally follows from having respect for Ayahuasca.

back to list


2. Responsibility

Take responsibility for your healing before, during and after the ceremony. This is the same as any relationship you are involved in: each person needs to do their best to take responsibility for their half, or the thing falls apart and you find yourself stoned and drunk and screaming into your Vietnamese noodle box at 3am “I DON’T LIKE who I am when I’m with YOU anymore!!”

Before the ceremony, this may mean turning your mind toward preparing yourself psychologically and physically by, for instance, following a diet, meditating, praying / setting strong intentions, emotional processing.

During the ceremony, taking responsibility for your process means not wanting to be rescued from your issues, “air-lifted to safety” by Ayahuasca. It involves the recognition that Ayahuasca is here to help you, but ultimately you are the one who will be doing the work, you are the one who will be healing yourself by the strength of your intention, willingness to feel, openness to new realities, ability to forgive, etc – even if it feels at times as if Ayahuasca is doing the work for you, you are allowing that to happen with your openness and readiness to transform. And even if other factors will influence your experience (such as external energies and the shaman’s guidance), this frame places responsibility on the participant to engage with what is happening (which may involve connecting to energy, setting energetic boundaries, or circulating energy). In any case, my view is that Ayahuasca never “gives” you anything; rather she helps you to connect with a wholeness and perfection that exists as the core of who you already are.

After the ceremony, responsibility means taking seriously the integration of your Ayahuasca experiences into your daily life (this is discussed in more detail under commitment below).

back to list


3. Listening
(be open to all the ways she communicates with you)

Ayahuasca is always trying to communicate with you. There is always a language being spoken. It may come through visions, through auditory channels, through feelings or thoughts or knowings, or a combination of these experiences. Don’t get caught up in trying to have a visionary experience if you are not having one; be with what is actually here.

Listen. Listening means engaging your senses (especially the feeling sense if you are working on emotional issues) so that you are receptive to the messages contained in the language Ayahuasca is speaking to you, the way a flower is receptive to the ceaseless stream of information it receives from its environment (eg, fluctuations in temperature, moisture, bacteria, insects, curious human children).

Listen with your heart to everything that Ayahuasca presents you, as you would listen to someone who is telling you the truth as they die: present, not expecting or wanting them to say anything other than what they are saying, not waiting for your turn to speak, just quietly open with your heart receptive and still.

Also take time to listen to your own heart in this same way (before, during, after the ceremony), because that is just as important. If you are ignoring your own feelings, how can you be present for your partner in the relationship? This means feeling, being present and feeling. Anything further that you need to “do” with your awareness or attention will be found through this kind of heart listening.

back to list


4. Vulnerability

For me, the willingness to admit and feel the truth of my emotional experience, to be vulnerable, is a critical part of my relationship with Ayahuasca. This also encompasses a willingness to ask: “how have I been bullshitting myself?” or “what have I been hiding from myself?”

— and admitting that you may be wrong —
— about —
— everything —

Of course in order to be vulnerable, you have to recognise the validity of your emotions as a kind of guidance system, rather than unfortunate incidents of being human, to be by-passed or ignored.

I recently heard a great description of the willingness to be vulnerable as a willingness to cultivate the “soft spot”. We all have a soft spot, which is the part of us that is exposed to feeling emotional pain. When I am triggered by an emotional pattern, being vulnerable means honouring and “being with” the soft spot rather than hardening or giving in to automatic conditioned responses (of, for instance, fear, judgment or anger). Doing so can allow us to see the pattern in its entirety, understand the real reasons for the feelings, or otherwise disarm the destructive power of the pattern and its grip on us. New insights and behaviours then become possible. If you are interested in resolving trauma or changing emotional programming, you must learn to be vulnerable; in this sense, vulnerability is power.

Ayahuasca will often try to … encourage … us to admit the truth of our feelings to ourselves. Do your best to go with her on this one. Resistance is hell.

However, certain people (and especially those who regard Ayahuasca as a quick-fix) bring into the Ayahuasca space a deeply-ingrained tendency to harden over the soft spot, to react to emotional pain, to not admit how they are bullshitting themselves. If one is not willing to be honest and address this tendency, they can blind themselves even in an Ayahuasca ceremony. The Ayahuasca experience can then become a warzone of emotional projections in which unhelpful or destructive patterns are further entrenched. I have reserved a future blog post just for this topic.

back to list


5. Sense of humour

Rosette nebula in the Unicorn constellationBe open to laughing at yourself. Our entire life drama is an infinitesimally small part of the holy everything, identity is a non-existent mirage, change is the rule and we have almost no control over anything that happens. Ayahuasca is well aware of this and sometimes there is nothing else to do but cackle at the fuck of it all!!

back to list


6. Trust, surrender, acceptance

For me, trust and love go hand-in-hand. Sometimes I wish they wouldn’t. The trust that Ayahuasca has encouraged me to have is not the trust that everything will turn out as I want or expect, ie, “outcome trust” or “expectation trust”. It is instead more like the Sufi trust of “this mysterious life may dissolve you in the twinkly lights of heaven or disembowel the fuck out of you; either way it’s all good, it’s what you need, either way you only have illusions to shed and infinity to gain.” Trust, somehow trust, that you are getting what you need, that this is the experience you are supposed to be having for your growth as a human being. You might call this “process trust”. To find a way to trust the process is important, but understandably this can be difficult for some people. Again, you may be able to gain confidence from the innumerable people who have passed through this sacred process with positive life-changing results.

A very closely-related activity is: surrender. For me this involves making a decision to turn towards everything that the moment presents, breathe, be with it and let it be. Letting it be as it is does not mean I have to like what is presented, only that I don’t struggle or fight against it. Give up the struggle against what is, relax and offer up to Ayahuasca the illusion that you ever had control over what happens in life. To surrender does not mean to submit your will and become overwhelmed by an experience. In fact in most cases of people freaking out that I have seen, it is resistance to what is happening – fighting against reality – that is the cause of overwhelm. And whenever I have been in a state of surrender… spirits, divine intelligence, love and all manner of gracious happenings have flowed in celebration through my open heart.

And letting things be exactly as they are, to accept them completely, I think this is a kind of love.

Of course if you are secretly treating Ayahuasca as an antidote — whether to you it is a sacred medicine or the grandmother genie spirit — you will be less inclined to trust, surrender and accept during your relationship with Ayahuasca. And even if a person is able to surrender and trust during their experience, if they are running the antidote program subconsciously, the surrender and trust is conditional and temporary: “cool, so I surrender and trust for 6 nights out of my entire life, and you will fix all my shit, and then I can return to my regular environment and go back to not surrendering and trusting 24 hours a day 7 days a week”. If you fall into this category, you may wish to take the Expectations Test.

back to list


7. Commitment – Intention – Integration of experiences

Another characteristic of a healthy relationship that I have seen people apply to Ayahuasca is commitment, which bears on all aspects of the process and often determines how deeply one is able to relate to Ayahuasca.

Commitment in this context is really a commitment to yourself, and it means: a deep, heart-felt and unconditional intention to heal, learn, evolve, return home – whatever it is that brought you to Ayahuasca – to do and feel whatever is needed, for whatever length of time is necessary.

This kind of commitment is different from making an intellectual decision to do something. For instance, a person may have decided to do an Ayahuasca retreat, paid the money, come to Peru, drank in a few ceremonies, but that does not mean that they have made a commitment to their process. And if they are under the spell of the antidote fantasy (wanting a quick-fix to the symptoms of their problems), they are less likely to commit, to have a heart-felt intention that not only opens them deeply during the ceremony, but carries them through the integration challenges after the retreat.

The effect of this kind of commitment is to mobilize your subconscious resources in service of your intention, to align the fragmented parts of yourself toward a common goal. This is important for a number of reasons.

First, we are not a unitary personality; we are a collection of fragmented personalities or parts, which I regard metaphorically as children frozen at different times in our lives. These parts / children have different agendas; some are open to change, some are terrified of it and want things to stay the same. When someone makes a decision to change, both kinds of children will want to push their agendas, and there will always be some form of resistance. If the decision to change is strong and clear, ie, if a commitment has been made, there will be less resistance from the frightened children (or their resistance will be more easily overcome). Hence the person will be less likely to fall victim to self-sabotaging patterns while working with Ayahuasca.

Secondly, the parts of you that are open to change will rally, their cry for freedom will amplify, and you will be able to open more deeply with Ayahuasca.

But most importantly, a strong commitment to your process will help you integrate your Ayahuasca experiences into your daily life. Sometimes this integration will be a conscious process that you engage in; for example, you might take up a particular type of meditation practice or make it a habit to express yourself more honestly to others. But there is also a kind of subconscious integration that often takes place with people, even if they have had no subjective awareness of anything happening in their Ayahuasca ceremonies. If you have made a strong commitment to your process, this will magnetize the seeds of change that Ayahuasca has planted inside you to grow in life-affirming directions. And a strong commitment will also carry you beyond the Ayahuasca process itself of course, to branch out and look for other complementary practices to support your process.

Often what it takes to make this commitment is readiness. On many occasions I have spoken to people who express frustration about not being able to get where they want to go with Ayahuasca, and quietly I know that it is simply because they are not ready. They are not ready to give up lying to themselves, they are not ready to be vulnerable, they are not ready to put in the work, they are not ready to change something in their environment. And one of the main factors that creates readiness in a person is: that they have suffered enough. When someone has suffered enough, when the old way of being has become truly intolerable, they will be ready to give themselves, to open, to commit to their process. And these people, the ones who have suffered enough, are also willing to give up the fantasy of the antidote and take responsibility for their healing process (to continue the relationship) after the ceremony (honeymoon, fancy dress ball, alien orgy) is over. Because the truth is that the evolutionary journey home is in most cases a very long road… and that has to be ok.

back to list


now a word on over-fiddling

dr who











While engagement in these kinds of ways is necessary, I want to repeat again: this is not supposed to be a manual of fixed protocols for relating to Ayahuasca that one should cling to and try to perform in ceremony. This is only meant to disarm unhelpful ways of relating, and stimulate the parts of you already relating healthily to go deeper in that direction.

It can be a huge trap to try to over-engage with the process; so many of us have control issues which can hijack the entire experience in the name of needing to “do it right”. Each person will have a unique relationship with Ayahuasca and it is up to you to listen with your heart to understand the optimum way of engaging with the experience.

Some people, however, are particularly lost in their mind and disconnected from their inner guidance system. They will read words like “surrender” and “trust” and “listen with your heart” but not have a clue what they mean, and will wrack their analytical brains trying to find the correct algorithm to execute, and despair because they aren’t “doing it right”. For these people it is useful to speak with a guide who has experience (and emotional awareness). Sometimes a person has been so in their head, judging obsessively each moment of their experience, that I have counselled them only to “turn towards” whatever is happening in the ceremony while breathing deeply. Sometimes there is just nothing to do except be with the experience, even if that is one of resistance. Sometimes just lying there, breathing deeply and saying ‘do your thing, lover, I am open, I am ready to give up “doing” and to be present to this experience”’ is the best thing you can “do”. I have myself spent many nights just “turning towards” what is happening, breathing, and allowing – nothing more.

back to list

***Note: this post forms part of a series which explores how our quick-fix fantasy affects the Ayahuasca process. This post is part 3.

Here is part 1: The Antidote – an introduction

And part 2: Humping the Antidote

Plant Diets — Reflections from Plumb Shack

Stumbling down the sweaty and tortuous jungle path deeply, you may happen upon Plumb Shack, an oasis for the curious, confused and quietly desperate wayfarer of consciousness.


The bearded strolling weasel over there is me. Don’t be alarmed; I used to be civilized and can still pretend well enough. I am about to begin another ‘plant diet’ at the Shack. My schedule for the rest of the afternoon looks something like this:

Confusion. Meditation. Morsel of beetroot. Meditation. Wash loins in the stream.
Ponder extinction of everything living, particularly humans. Examine toe fungus. Amble in forest. Meditation —

                                     Break time — peer at bird…
Neurosis. Smoke pipe. Gasp at preciousness of life.
Ponder evolutionary purpose of those little black moths that keep biting my arse —
                                     Break time — peer at bird…
Meditation. Confusion. Neurosis. Ponder emptiness. Try to ripen fruit with my mind. Meditation. Quake in bewilderment. Meditation. Take a dump behind fallen tree. Singing. Peer at bird…

As you can see, I’m pretty busy. But I will take some time now to explain in more civilized terms what I am up to, for your benefit, and for the benefit of my father, who still wants to believe, after all these years, that I am on some sort of extended vacation… and that my intermittent ecstatic derangements — perhaps the by-product of an exotic brain parasite — will be cured when the vacation ends and I cut my hair and take out comprehensive life insurance and embrace sensible god damn living god damn it.

“What’s a plant diet? Are you trying to lose weight or sumfing?”

The view from the Shack

The view from the Shack

The Shipibo people are indigenous to the Peruvian Amazon. They have a rich, well-developed and powerful tradition of shamanism (or plant spirit medicine, known in Peru as curanderismo), of which I am a student. One part of the tradition involves the ceremonial use of the Ayahuasca brew as a means of allowing the curandero (healer, shaman) to channel magical, extra-sensory or normally-imperceptible forms of information (energy, spirits/beings/entities). One of the primary sources of the curandero’s ability to channel is the ‘plant diet’. In its traditional form, the diet is a bit like a contract between the student curandero and a plant spirit: the student agrees to sacrifice his indulgences (stimulating foods and drinks [eg, salt, oil, spices] and activities [eg, sex and socializing] and undertake to create the circumstances for a connection between him and the spirit to flourish (eg, by isolating himself and concentrating / meditating on the plant for a period of time), and the plant spirit (hopefully) teaches the student what the student wants to learn (eg, plant medicine remedies, how to channel energy, how to diagnose people’s imbalances / illnesses in ceremonies). This should not be confused with what is colloquially called the ‘Ayahuasca Diet’ or a ‘Healing Diet’.

Dieting protocol tends to vary from shaman to shaman, and plant teacher to plant teacher. Although there are basic principles which are shared by some traditions (for example, the idea of sacrificing indulgences), there is no strictly-defined approach. In my time as a student, I have dieted plants under different conditions. Some diets have lasted months; others were shorter and more intense. During some diets I spoke and shared space freely with other people; I have also dieted in isolation, in silence. There have been diets during which I have meditated or otherwise tried to connect myself for about an hour each day, and others in which I have immersed myself in meditations for almost the entire day, every day.

The format that seems to be the most effective for me at the moment is to diet for between one and two weeks intensively, that is, in isolation in the jungle, without speaking to anybody, fasting, eating only very simple foods, meditating and connecting with nature for many hours each day. I have come to realize for myself that the duration of a diet is less important than the quality of your attention and commitment during (and after) the diet, that is, how intensely you diet. And at the end of the day, dieting for me is about results, some (not all) of which are measurable.

Dieting, like prayer, is a sacred activity, and for the most part it is a very private affair, so I won’t discuss all aspects of my process. Even so, I’d like to share something of the process as I have experienced it, including a few examples of the fruits it can yield, particularly:

1) ‘shadow self’ inquiry, shedding psychic tension, emotional ‘cooking’;

2) experiences of insight, connection and creativity;

3) deepening of existing spiritual practices; and

4) ‘flow states’, channelling energy / information, holding space for others.

In many ways, the dieting process, at least for me, has much in common with what happens during Ayahuasca retreats and on the spiritual path in general. This is because I regard the dieting process as a way for me to grow myself spiritually.

Ultimately, although it is important to undertake intensive plant diets (or retreats of any kind for that matter) from time to time, I have found that it is just as important to maintain the connection and practices of the diet every day, in the chaos of my ordinary life. It is like maintaining a relationship; you cannot just rely on the vacations and ‘honeymoon’ episodes to keep the jazz going; you need to turn your heart towards your partner each day in a fresh way.

One more thing. This is just my experience. Drinking Ayahuasca and living down here have shown me clearly that … I don’t really know what’s going on, and I can’t claim to have my shit any more figured out than anyone else. In fact, I spend a fair amount of my time in bewilderment, half expecting to be hit by a car and killed… and the deeper I seem to be getting with this path, the less I feel I know. Sometimes I get nervous when I know I shouldn’t, or judge other people, or judge myself, or stare dully at the wall and ask what’s the use of it all, or sob into a hamburger when things don’t go my way. All I can do is… try to be honest with myself, and to listen more often to the heart, that sweet and delicate wound that makes all of this nonsense meaningful when it’s touched…

1. Awareness of ‘shadow self’, shedding psychic tension, ‘cooking’


My ‘shadow self’, The Penguin, aka, Oswald Cobblepot

During the diet one is deprived of one’s usual emotional crutches, such as conversation, food, stimulation and busy-ness. This naturally brings up “shit” — much is reflected about the strange machinery of being human, the patterned psychological conditioning that constitutes the “little mind” or “egoic self” and which drives almost all our behaviour. Mostly this is uncomfortable news, and I do my best to welcome it. Occasionally there are also glimpses of a deeper awareness, what some have called our “true nature” or “big mind”, usually experienced once the fog of the egoic self lifts for a moment or two.

My own experience on the path of… what do you call it… evolution or spiritual development? Not even, as these terms imply some linear progression towards a goal… Ok, on the journey home, the merry-go-vortex of learning to live with less fear and more openness, my experience is in line with Carl Jung’s view that “one does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious”.

This makes sense if you think of the true nature of the self as a radiant, perfect diamond. Over time, through conditioning, traumas, fear, repression, the diamond gets covered over by mud. Yet it remains a diamond. To return home we need only remove the mud (or look so closely at the mud that the diamond becomes visible). This metaphor is echoed by many religious traditions, including Buddhism — there really is not a single thing to grow, nothing to be enhanced in our true nature; there is only the shedding of illusions, veils and blockages which obscure what is already whole and connected within us. I love the explanation I heard recently of the “ego self” as a “misunderstanding of reality” — and a large part of the spiritual path for me involves becoming so intimate with the games of my egoic self that eventually I (hopefully) identify less with them (ie they possess me less often) and am able to see through them into a deeper awareness, the diamond.

I have felt shadow work to be critical in helping me to be a channel for the energies and spirits of the diet in my daily life, which I feel is just as important as being a channel during ceremony.

To me the case for this kind of self-inquiry is also compelling for another reason: whatever we are not conscious of controls us from behind the scenes, inevitably colouring our motivations, goals, relationships, choices across all areas of life; I have personally spent inordinate amounts of time pursuing projects and relationships that seemed sensible to me, but that I now realize were motivated by, for instance, inadequacy or guilt… How much time, energy and drama could have been spared had I been more in tune with my shadow!

So for me this involves learning to shed light on, accept and rehabilitate / re-parent various aspects of my shadow… that is, the aspects of my self that threaten or undermine the image of my self that I have constructed in order to make me feel secure, confident, adequate (or at least less insecure, unconfident, inadequate).

“He who makes a beast of himself gets rid of the pain of being a man.” (Samuel Johnson)

In a dream during a recent diet, a coalition of certain shadow self aspects appeared to me in symbolic form…. that of ‘The Penguin’ from the Batman Returns movie (also known as Oswald Cobblepot). Greed, anger, shame, lust, impulsiveness – all the crooked classics are here, everything you need to maintain a modern civilization.

But beyond the revolting leer and pockets oozing sticky-date fudge and fish head chunks, Cobblepot is lonely, outcast and hurt, feels rejected and shamed by society, by god, and really only wants love and acceptance. In my unconscious attempt to cultivate an image of myself as the ‘sensitive, aware spiritual seeker’ (as an antidote to an even more unconscious sense of inadequacy), I have driven my inner children (consciousness modules) into the sewers to become The Penguin, and in so doing have created an enemy, an obstacle to truth and connection with others. My mission has become to rehabilitate the Cobblepot with love, acceptance and understanding, something which I know will take time (and many secret sticky-date fudge puddings) to complete. The essence of this mission is to continuously, on a daily basis, check in with my emotions (by locating them in my body), and provide a loving, understanding ‘container’ or space for those emotions to be as they are, a kind of spiritual re-parenting. I am working at the moment with a combination of Inner Child (or Council) work, The Journey, and the Buddhist practices of maitri (loving kindness), tonglen and Chod (feeding your demons).

In this process of becoming more aware of the shadow, there is also usually a psychic ‘shedding’ that takes place: every negative emotional pattern has, like every emotion or thought, a kind of weight — it burdens the psycho-physical system in some way. When I have had to continually repress anger, for instance, in order not to fabulously murder some fool in an office space in the revealing light of day… when I finish work I am more tired than usual and may have trouble achieving an erection. Lately I have been dealing with my self-judgment complex, and repeated self-judgment certainly has left its burden on my mind and body, and during the diet I felt as though this burden was ‘purged’ to some extent, leaving me clearer and more energetic.

Although awareness and shedding can lead to a resolution or re-processing of shadowy emotional patterns — changing the basic wiring of the program so that one is no longer triggered to behave in the same way — this usually requires daily practice and takes time, years perhaps. And that has to be OK.

However, if in desperation the pilgrim wants to resolve emotional programs more rapidly, he must investigate the technologies of deep-self repatterning, get down and dirty in the trenches – those gurgling, stinkin’ trenches – of limbic brain system revisioning; waltz against the fraying, electrified veil between hopeful consistency and unmitigated chaos; unhinge yourself, grandpa, unhinge yourself good and take the red pill. Some examples of such technologies are psychedelics (eg, Ayahuasca), hypnosis, breathwork, dreamwork and certain forms of meditation and emotional or shamanic journeying. Deep repatterning can also happen spontaneously if conditions are ripe, although this has been very rare for me.

Yet even with these kinds of tools, I have found that a daily practice is  critical in order to integrate and grow the wisdom of my experiences, and to be able to support myself as more darkness is dredged to the surface. This has especially held true as regards the Ayahuasca healing process.



There, there, Cobblepot, onward we go. So for me, this identification, acceptance and, occasionally, resolution / re-processing of the ‘shadow’ aspects of the self and their attendant psychic burdens is a central aspect of the journey home, and in this regard dieting has been a wonderful kind of washing machine in which I, Cobblepot, spin round and round at disquieting velocities, holding my knees and praying.

And sometimes there is little or no awareness of shadow aspects. At these times I have felt that the Cobblepot has been on ‘simmer’ mode: the space and time of the diet has the effect of ‘cooking’ / incubating / deepening subconscious emotional processes, which can then become ripe for processing at a later stage.

Now excuse me while I stuff my face with this sticky-date pudding and judge myself for doing so…

2. Experiences of insight, connection and creativity

My inner fat boy, receiving a transmission

Occasionally it happens. The egoic self, the small mind and its gnome-hive of neurotic machinations, slows, stops, disappears, becomes transparent, is interrupted, or made irrelevant. Some grace descends, some openness implodes, and caresses awake the mystery which, having slumbered as a butterfly in trance, now begins to softly beat its wings in the aching deeps of this homosapian heart.

Like, you are having a stupendous shit behind a fallen tree … and above the sky is generous with rainbow lights leaning; a vulture circles silently; insects undulate on the forest floor; everything decomposing and hunting and fucking, and inside you are stranded, agape and reeling, and there are no words, only trees all around you chattering in tongues about the promise of rain coming,

and there is no separation anymore.

Later you are meditating and out in front of you one bird chases another like “fucking fuck off!” and spontaneously you feel the truth-sense that —

no apology has ever been required for this funky, glistening, meat-stack jiggling creature that you are… every single way that you are is completely alright, completely perfectly alright.

Or maybe you stretch your tired back in the afternoon sun like a stray cat who found half of a tourist’s chicken sandwich in the garbage… taken care of by life, finally at rest… out in front nature sways in vibrant greens and there is no necessary meaning to anything here but what comes through the swaying so clear that you almost feel ashamed for not having realized it before is the imperative to

regard all and everything with tenderness, for now it’s passing.

Another type of experience — not uncommon in the world of the Shipibo plant diet — might be that of a gift from the spirits for use in ceremony, some energetic download, upgrade… a magical map, armour, or roller blades, for instance. Ok I lied about the roller blades; I am yet to receive a pair no matter how many times I ask.

I think of these experiences of insight or grace as a kind of “transmission” from the spirits, or the heart of the world. Ayahuasca herself is particularly good at giving people transmissions during ceremony, for example, experiences of oneness with everything, remembrance of divine love, recognition of perfection of existence, absolute self-love, freaky sex with aliens in a sexy alien jacuzzi… glory to the pineal orgasm in all its variety! I feel that these transmissions will always sink into a space in the heart’s memory, coalesce as blessings, swell, layer themselves in some hidden undertow… which, at some perfect moment in the future, takes you down into another chapter of unfoldment… deeper understandings, knowings, remembrances, ecstasies, agonies, come to life.. and this process keeps happening as you continue down the crooked-ass spiritual path. This is one sense in which transmissions are important.

But transmissions can be so much more valuable if one discovers a way of working with them on a daily basis, of taking the truth-seed experience and nourishing it every day. This might seem obvious, but appears to be largely overlooked by so many people drinking Ayahuasca that I’ve met. The truth is that, by themselves, transmissions are no guarantee that your behaviour or filters to reality will change in the long-term. Sometimes it happens, depending on the nature of the deep-self undertow, but it is relatively uncommon in my experience. Worse still, transmissions (especially the pineal orgasms) are addictive. So people become reliant on them, going from one experience to the next, without really shifting their relationship to life, and build in their minds a story of how they are growing and how special they are for having had these experiences. This is a huge trap in the Ayahuasca scene, and I have time and again fallen teeth-first into it before slowly, reluctantly coming to the view I now have.

So I try (and try again) to regard transmissions as ‘positive side effects / signs’ on the path, rather than something to cling to or seek to repeat.

But god knows they are sweet, so very sweet, and I wish I could just wrap myself up in them and sink into a never-ending stupor of sweetness.

Hummingbird friend

Hummingbird friend. During a diet I was visited by a hummingbird on three separate occasions… each time he hovered for 10 or 15 seconds, staring into my eyes, as if to say: ´what is the meaning of all of this´

Another aspect of the diet for me is … episodes of spontaneous creativity… it doesn’t always happen, but when it does I feel this curious and distinct kind of quiet joy pepper my brain, this joy of being, of relating with jubilance to the mystery, of expressing all of this to faceless nature alone….

but looking now over my journal it clearly is not all fun and games, and sometimes late nights at the Shack can just as easily turn on you —

Impermanence blues. I feel somehow more exposed before the spooky ocean of slithering nothingness churned by mother earth joyfully in song, the merciless lullaby of ‘you are really only very small and insignificant; just as you kill those biting moths, so shall you be wiped from the face of this beloved scenario you call life’.

Indeed. In addition to the loveliness of the flow state… I will at least once or twice during a diet… have a show-down with its un-lovely opposite… which is the not-flow state, also known as constipation, my old companion. This most treacherous of bastards really requires its own entry… on the last diet I had the occasion to sing… for a longer time than I care to admit… sing a song I wrote called “Constipation Ranch”… just sitting there in the jungle singing this song as there was nothing else to do.

3. Deepening existing practices

Even if one were not to diet, just being out in nature somewhere and having the space and time to deepen existing spiritual practices is such a precious gift. Before beginning the dieting process, my only experience of such a space for dedicated spiritual practice was the 10-day Vipassana meditation retreat.

Apart from the time spent with a practice, a meditation for example, the dieting space seems also conducive to growth of existing practices, that is, how a practice might be changed, where it is stuck, where it needs to go next. For me this is also confirmation of something that I’ve been learning recently which is… when a thing is given the space to be as it is, it will naturally flourish.

I should add that a few of my central practices are plant connection meditations anyway, so whether I am dieting or not, these practices are continually growing and deepening.

4. Flow states, channelling energy / information; holding space for others


Mi amigo, ‘el Capitan’, Pedro, and his butterfly spirit

One of my intentions in dieting has been to become more of a channel for information / truth / energy during Ayahuasca ceremonies and as a space-holder for people on our retreats. This is to be more often in a ‘flow state’.

This flow state can be thought of as a kind of dreaming, a trance, in which sensory gates open wider, and deeper meanings can be distilled from the amorphous ocean of information in which we are (unwittingly) immersed. It has also been referred to as heart perception, as it involves reclaiming the feeling sense as a primary mode of experiencing the world… Another term used for this state is coherence, meaning that the various information-processing modules of the body-mind-wobbly-thing are grooving harmoniously together; it is basically a more elegant and effective way of perceiving and processing information, one that is holistic and non-linear, a mode of cognition used by all intelligent, self-organized systems in nature.

It is to be contrasted with the linear, sensorily gated, intellectual / neo-cortical mode of perception worshipped by most schooling, economic and scientific institutions as the pinnacle of human intelligence, and which has, arguably, led the human species to the brink of ruin (!)

… ruuuuuiiiiiiin ….

I have definitely noticed that when I sing in ceremony after a diet I more readily ‘get out of my own way’ and allow spirits and energy to come through me, as opposed to struggle to summon my own energy into the gaping night, to ‘force it’. To anyone who has held ceremony before, that difference is like being ‘on’ instead of ‘off’; when the energy doesn’t flow, singing is more of a struggle and, I feel, less effective; when energy flows, singing is a pleasure, and the frequencies generated are more likely to encourage healing in ceremony participants. Indeed, in the Shipibo tradition, the curandero is not the one doing the healing – it is the spirits and energy forms coming through the curandero that make healing possible.

To me it is important to (attempt to) channel energy as often as I can during ceremony not only because it is a central part of the tradition I am studying (a tradition which has been working with Ayahuasca for many hundreds of years), but also because I have experienced first-hand when a curandero is ‘on’ and when they are not, that is, these days I can perceive the energy coming from the maestro when he is channelling, and I believe that this energy plays a role in the transformation of consciousness. And still for me it is a very slow process; some nights I am on, some not.

Of course the question may fairly be asked: To what extent are the curandero and these energy forms responsible for the transformations people undergo during ceremonies? What is responsible for the healing of the patient in an Ayahuasca ceremony? In my experience with Shipibo curanderos, primacy is given to the role of the maestro: without the maestro, nothing of substance is expected to happen, few (if any) visions should appear, the patient may suffer unnecessarily and is unlikely to heal. With a good maestro, the patient can heal and have magnificent visions and spiritual connections. Minimal importance is given to the will and ability of the patient to heal themselves during ceremony; the patient can make the maestro’s work easier by concentrating on their intention and praying, for example, but ultimate responsibility for the healing lies with the maestro. Indeed, traditionally patients who attended ceremonies did always drink Ayahuasca – the maestro did, for the purpose of diagnosing the patient and channelling energy and spirits, but whether the patient would drink depended on their condition. Ceremony participants drinking Ayahuasca regardless of their condition is a recent phenomenon, encouraged by Western ‘seekers’ and the Ayahuasca tourism industry.

Based on my experiences working with different curanderos and hundreds of retreat participants, I surely do not know the answer to the question. However, it seems to me that there are many factors that play a role in a participant’s experience, and I personally place a lot of weight on the role of the individual (particularly the fire and depth of their intention / prayer for transformation) [more on this in another entry].

Apart from the ceremony space, I’ve also noticed that when I am more connected to this ‘flow state’ or ‘heart perception’ that I am more present for people during our retreats and hold space more effectively; for me it is a state of enhanced information processing and flow, which naturally lends itself to deeper interpersonal communication and perception in general.

Of course learning how to drop into the flow state takes a long time, and there are many people who have more of a natural aptitude for it than I do. I am a gangly hatchling only recently emerged from the sticky trance of linear intellectualism, and my steps are fumbling, nervous, inconsistent. There, there, Cobblepot. But onward I march, because if ever I have felt myself to be a positive influence in this world, it is through the heart, and in the coherence of its (non-linear, chaotic) rhythm I feel closer to fulfilling my evolutionary purposes, whatever they may be.

That’s how it is. The butterflies gather to feast on my urine.


See also

1. The Antidote

2. Humping the Antidote — drug-takers and light-chasers

3. Grandma take me home — responsibility — relating to Ayahuasca