Tag Archives: Psychedelics darkness

Ayahuasca: Love, light and the dark journey to relationship

Demonizing the Cry for Help

jh3

Marooned on the floor of a cramped Thai bathroom, huddled in on myself, vomiting through the nose: alcohol, sleeping pills, curry. It was a good night out. There was dancing. I rose above. Now it is the end of the night and the dancing is finished. I wheeze, spit into the toilet, and slump against the wall like a puppet abandoned by its human god. This is a very intimate moment, when I slump like this. I can almost feel the night slumping with me, sighing because nothing remains of her but darkness, pure and true.

And this darkness undresses me, undoes the clamp on my jaw and croons; and what pours forth are the demons; the silenced, unfelt, disallowed, disowned multitudes within; aloneness, rage, shame, despair and so many others huddled and nameless, confused and violent refugees of the self, in thirsty hoards they overflow.

I do what I’ve always done: disown, turn away, go to war – howl the unsaid poison at the world, at my girlfriend, words with broken fuck-teeth gnashing, ones I can’t take back and won’t remember; down the demons take me feeding, thrashing headless and rattling sickly the bottle of painkillers, some of them spilling, around the hotel room I zombie-saunter, lurching this way the old way the bad way out along the plank where citizens end where signals die where lines go silent.

Somehow I stumble my way back to the bathroom, fall on my side and shit on the floor a little bit, staining the tiles. I raise a fist triumphantly. All and every molecule is hollow now and there is nothing left in this place but the sound of my girlfriend crying as she devours left-over pizza. I close my eyes, slip beneath myself finally, pulling over my head this blanket of cosy oblivion. Now I remember why I drink.

The next morning, well, this is a sorry ritual for us all, waking up denatured in hot skin like rat meat in a snake’s belly. There is a sense that something has gone wrong, is going wrong, has always been wrong. Go to the mirror – I shave, want to start over, to not remember. But before I do… I pause, blinking at my haggard façade:

What am I doing on this fucking planet?

I shiver. How many times will this question be asked. There in the reflection – haunting evidence – you see candy bar wrappers, pill bottles, greasy chicken bones, dirty footprints. And, of course, the little brown stain on the tiles. I stare at it, as I might stare at an asteroid fragment in a museum. It looks back, accusingly. I turn away, closing the door.

dr jekyll

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

This was my story 10 years ago now. It is a true story, this cycle of suffering, this drama of Jekyll and Hyde. Stories like this dwell in every human heart raised in civilization, bred to be civilized. They are the stories of our darkness and the violence we use to ignore it — they reveal our lifestyle of dissociation and separation from the parts of ourselves which are too frightening to look at, too heavy to hold, how we turn away from their cries and call them our demons. And the shadows we cast in doing so become the destructive lostness of our age.

The journey home is the journey from separation to relationship. I will explain this more clearly later, but for now it is enough to say:

homesickness.

to some extent all of us are compelled in one direction or another by homesickness.  Maybe you know what I mean already. In my story, it was a pervasive sense of alienation, separateness and despair that first drew me, heavy-hearted and hopeful, to ‘grandmother’ Ayahuasca.

When I arrived in Peru, grandmother treated me kindly. For many nights I was turned inside out and trampled by an infinity of wonder; paradox creatures of pure light paraded endlessly through my pineal gland’s tea-party land; I remembered divine love, wept in ecstatic bliss at the perfection of existence and had sex with unconditionally-loving aliens in a chrome jacuzzi. I remember walking around gleeful, haggard, reeking of serotonin, my bright eyes swollen with the energy of hidden worlds, with the fury of one who knows… and when people asked me about Ayahuasca, in shrill tones I would declare “yes, this is the work: more tea, more aliens, grandmother is a pimp; life is perfect, this is why we drink”.

I wasn’t the only one. There were others on board my merry vessel, beards unkempt and bristling with magic, jester-like and shooting off spiritual utterances in the half-dark. Some wrote books, turned vegetarian, built strange totem pyramids on the riverbank. We left our darkness in the bucket. And sailed over the orgasmic waters of new life to be reborn as shiny lights. I think that every single creature deserves to receive these divine transmissions, to rush into the sunshine of their own being, to have experiences of absolute love and connection. To be reborn, god knows I needed to feel like that, and beyond the immediate relief of transcendent perspective, these experiences started to catalyse other reactions of unfoldment in me that I cannot measure or put into words.

But after a time, the pulsing of those supernatural night-lights began to fade, slow like a heartbeat returning to rest. And out in the stark wind-swept stage of my life, old emotional patterns began to exert their invisible pressure like an atmosphere, and darkness fell again, as it does after each new day no matter how perfect.

So down it took me, down to a familiar place of waiting and of war, where I held my breath for the treatment that would make me less heavy, and did what I thought would effect a cure — turned away, said to hell with that, drank and drank again the high-frequency songs of grandma’s rainbow fog-machine, losing myself in its hypnotic jiggling, its heavenly upward motion – for love and light and to get out the badness, for throwing up my stones, overboard, into the bucket. In this way, I did not feel the weight of separation like I did before, did not feel so lost.

 

stranger

“The greatest stranger is this one in the heart”
–– (Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee)

But neither did I feel home. And through the years of working with this medicine and facilitating experiences for many other people, I have grown so tired that I wonder:

what is it, really, this little weight that we carry with us into the ceremony hut — the weight that weighs more than the troubles of the world; that we spend all of our energy trying to get rid of;

that we light on fire and throw at reality, hoping for the best.

I have grown so tired of pushing this weight and of watching others drinking Ayahuasca pushing this weight like old Sisyphus up the hill — tired enough to return to the mirror and ask for the truth about the weight of separation and how to cure it:

if we drink Ayahuasca to destroy this weight, to cleanse ourselves of darkness, to throw our demons overboard, will the drama of our suffering change?

Ayahuasca can help guide a lost traveller through the darkness, into a world with natural light. But what does this journey really demand of us who have carried the stones of separation for so long?

And how do we relate to the demons — those skinless strangers who call us by name — what are they to us —?

those dark, skinless, stone people that we carry

in our bag behind us

In dreams sometimes they come for us (when we’re out on flood waters drifting away to who-knows-where…)

— what are they to us,

those little hands,

the black voices of the stone strangers —

And if we turn away to reach for love, turn only towards the play of light,

will the currents beneath carry us home or deeper into the dark?

I wish I had seriously asked these questions when I first started working with plant teachers like Ayahuasca.

Demon-slaying and light-chasing
vs
Relating

Purging and demon-slaying are vital aspects of the medicinal use of Ayahuasca. So are divine love-and-light transmission experiences. Each of these topics warrants its own late-night meandering discussion, and I do not wish to simplify either of them.

But allow me — just for now — to throw up this one chunk. It is an elementary chunk. It is little, and for many people this chunk will be obvious… but it is a pointy chunk. Pointy indeed and I entreat you to chew it over:

—- you know that floaty glowing feeling you get after a stupendous purge / vomit / series of vomits over weeks-months-years of drinking medicine? —-

—- you know that spacious energetic positivity you get after you remember divine love and sing mantras and have sex with aliens over weeks-months-years of drinking medicine? —-

—- that’s not it.

It is neither growth nor is it the way home. It can be useful and sometimes is a symptom of deep shifts occurring, but don’t tell yourself a story about it and don’t try to repeat it.

I’ve known people who became trapped in their vomit bucket for years, ‘getting out the demons’. It’s a cramped place to dwell. I’ve known others who became addicted to love-and-light sing-along sessions because they didn’t know what else to do and, well, it just feels really really good.

I’m talking about people using Ayahuasca as an anti-depressant crutch. I don’t mean to say this is a wrong thing per se. There are people who need to work with the medicine in this way, and some of them have absolutely sane reasons for doing so. One example might be that a person lacks a framework to relate to various parts of themselves, or the capacity to stay with their emotional experience. Or they may lack a supportive environment in which to integrate their experiences. Or they may be highly traumatised and too overwhelmed to meet their trauma, so they need to ease into the process over a long period of time. Or they are physically ill and must purge psychic and physical density before even thinking of addressing complex emotional material. Or they may have energetic entities to deal with. Or they wish to celebrate and enjoy themselves, and it is true that love-and-light singalongs can be medicine for the soul also.

So it is fine and sometimes it is perfect. Just know that these medicines are non-specific amplifiers. They amplify the party lights as well as the creatures in your basement (hint: everything is god). The risk of using psychedelics as a crutch over the long term is that you re-entrench your darkness ( deeply-held blind spots / emotional and mental wounds / unconscious patterns ).

This can lead to the curious, dangerous and darkly hilarious phenomenon of ‘false-awakening’. This is where the plants run awakened energy through our circuits, but because we’ve been turning away from ourself for years, we spin these experiences into grandiose stories to reinforce our spiritual identity. Some of my favourites are:

  1. ‘me, myself and my enlightenment’
  2. ‘Ayahuasca told me all I gotta do is build the pyramid on the riverbank and the aliens will take care of the rest’
  3. ‘I’m awakened, and you are pretty and happen to be in the same room, therefore we’re meant to be together forever’.

Over the long term this just fattens up our shadows and makes us dependent on grandma’s feel-good transmissions. I have seen it lead to a ‘dumbing-down’ of so-called spirituality, and I have seen it lead to madness and delusion. But somehow the thing that breaks my heart is how our demon-slaying and light-chasing (when it is compulsive) can just lead to stagnation —- just ‘experience-for-its-own-sake’, like any other thrilling thing we consume, throw away and forget about in the hypnosis of a million shopping malls strung out from cradle to grave.

There is another way of working with psychedelics within the medicine paradigm. It is the way of relationship. I want to be clear that this is not a substitute for purging/demon-slaying, energetic work, love-and-light, divine transmissions, etc. All of these ways — when they are not compulsive — are totally valid and have their place. But in my experience there is not enough emphasis on relating to dark experience. This is no accident. ‘Turning away’ is wired into us by nature, culture and god-damned marketing (see my previous article The Antidote).

The dark is fertile and fruitful. The gifts of ‘turning towards’ are invaluable, and may just change your life, as they did mine.

Meeting the strangers ––
the gift of shame

One of the greatest gifts Ayahuasca gave me was to reveal a profound sense of shame coiled in the depths of my DNA. ‘Reveal’ is a nice word. It was not precisely a nice process. It was primordially terrifying to meet. I had never experienced such aloneness and hell. Each time it came up, it was endless. But a part of me knew that to run from this shame was to be possessed by it, to be controlled and motivated by it — as I had been for so much of my life. And to repeat this cycle was to turn away from my own life force.

So I began to relate to it. To meet and to feel, to listen, understand its needs and give it space to be… to creatively express, metabolize, cathart, tango-with, and, at times, to be overwhelmed by. This is an ongoing relationship. Probably for the rest of my life. Maybe it will never leave, I don’t know, and the good news is I don’t know if I need it to anymore. And no, I don’t feel like I’m ‘home’ or I’ve ‘arrived’. I’m starting to understand there is no place to arrive to. I only feel this is the right direction. For the most part it is an everyday, ordinary thing. It is of the earth, and it feels real.

Since beginning this relationship in earnest, many more parts which comprise ‘the self’ have made themselves known. They keep me as honest as I have the strength to be. This, I feel, has helped me

to inhabit my life more fully.

The life I actually have (as distinct from the one I try to escape to on the run from myself, the life which never arrives).

And sometimes the world pulls me out of my busy day and tells me — with an intimacy I have not known before — how I belong to her like everything else does. From this, too, more of a heartfelt concern for Earth has arisen naturally (though how to be socially active while often feeling overwhelmed or hopeless or time-poor or energy-poor — or all of these things at once… is a question I grapple with all the time).

I’ve also understood that this relationship has made fertile the multidimensional soil of the soul, allowing seeds of deeper awakening experiences to take root. The ones which are the end of you and allow more life to wake up to itself. I believe some of these experiences would have happened anyway. But some would not, or would not have been able to integrate.

Or would have stripped the brain of its good cheer and left me twitching on insanity rocks forever devoured by insects and pissing on myself.

Phew. Flashback. no need to go back there now ok anyway what I want to say is:

–– Listening to the dark makes consciousness flexible and resilient. It is essential to becoming a human being. Be always prepared to ask this question whenever darkness arises:

is this a real threat or a cry for help?

May the answer surprise you as it did me. I share my experience in the hope that it will contribute to a paradigm shift that is happening in the attitude we take towards darkness and light and psychedelics and the spiritual path because

the journey home is the journey from separation to relationship.

Relationship ––
self-fragmentation / war
vs
‘being-with’.

In terms of techniques, there are things which have helped me and which I am happy to share, such as mindfulness meditation, fasting, plant dietas, inner child / inner council work (propounded by Eric Berne, Stephen Buhner), Feeding Your Demons (by Tsultrim Allione), Radical Self-Acceptance (by Tara Brach).

But more than anything, it is a sustained shift in attitude based in experience, from

‘curing’ / rising above / by-passing / getting out the demons

to

‘relating’

— relating not for the sake of curing, but as a path to a deeper belonging to this world, and inhabiting the life you actually have.

For me it is about listening, especially to emotional currents, instincts, senses and dreams. Being kind to my ‘selves’. Relating to my body more as friend rather than enemy or work-horse. It involves, fundamentally, the practices of

awareness and feeling and belonging and meaning-making.

And failing. And time. A lot of it.

It is about the conscious co-existence of different (unfamiliar, and sometimes contradictory) patterns of meaning. It involves giving space to the strange, unsolved currents in life — giving them space to be as they are and, where possible, allowing them to deepen me. It is about learning how to tolerate contradictions.

I believe this is one kind of orientation towards an ensouled life; it encourages the faculties, habits, causes and conditions to help us become who we are supposed to become.

So for me, this learning to relate to the strangers which comprise ‘my self’ has been good medicine, thank you grandma. It has provided a kind of dynamic foundation from which I feel the sphere of relationship is gradually being widened — to others (human and non-human) and ultimately to the world. Because I feel the drive to relate in this way is the drive to return ‘home’ to our true self — our identity as melodious nothings in the ineffable song of everything (or, as deep ecologist Joanna Macy says, ‘world-as-self’).

Love is a verb.

To know and experience love and light is one thing; to be loving is another. Real love has the will to sit with a demon, to hold a stone, to listen to a stranger. Real love sees clearly the difference between a threat and a cry for help. This love is attentive, chooses to care for the fragile child whose legs ache from standing guard for so many years at the invisible gate between separation and all of the gorgeous slithering dark ecstatic living forces of nature

which you are.

At an absolute level, separation is an illusion and the potential of the human heart is unlimited. The wonderful thing about psychedelics is that they can give us an experiential understanding of these truths. But there is a profound difference between having a psychedelic experience, and living psychedelically. Love is a verb. And if our relationships with plant teachers like Ayahuasca do not encourage us to meet the strangers in our heart, the immense potential of these teachers to help us relate more deeply to the mystery of life over the long-term may fade, as just another night lost to cosy oblivion.

 

boy

 

Perhaps everything terrible in us is, in its deepest being, something helpless needing our help
–– (Rainer Maria Rilke)


Ayahuasca: Black magic, demons and seeing clearly in the dark

Full of demons

(a true story on the meaning of darkness)

Why didn’t you tell me,” said the shaman, puffing solemnly on his pipe, “that you were full of demons.” I shrugged my shoulders, staring at the dusty floor: “I didn’t really know what was going on”. In that moment I was glad we were hidden by night, and he couldn’t see how I was wrung out as a dirty rag ready for burning because the mess it dealt with was too terrible.

Before I took the cup of Ayahuasca, I did suspect that maybe it wasn’t a good idea to drink this evening, that some bad business was waiting for me in the dark. But if I listened to this kind of thinking every time it imposed itself on me, I’d probably never leave the house. So I drank and hoped for the best, believing, as I always do, that because I’m basically a good and reasonable man, darkness will not intrude on my civilised living; and that my narrative is too special to just be swallowed up, to end without warning, out here alone in the jungle.

It took about one hour for the warning to arrive. It began in my stomach, the preternatural swell of dark matter, then shattered into a thousand nightmarish shades, vivid as daylight, shaking, shrieking. All I could do was writhe around on the floor and pray. And my mind, fragmented and doomed like an old computer left in the street, flickered and spun round the loop of its final, failed directive:

threat analysis: black shit / badness / wrong horror gone evil / gone attacking / tryin to get me with its germs and poison breath and dirty nails / and multiple immortal heads which gnash the hair the bone the eye / flapping like you can’t imagine how it flaps in magical blackness

“Black magic. Demons.” That was the diagnosis. Perhaps it came from someone who was envious of me, or who was envious of the shaman. “The sorcerers down here, los brujos, use magic from books and evil chants to attack good people like us; they work with dead animals, dead people.” Perhaps I had picked up demons from people I supported during ceremonies. Disturbed spirits can see my light and feed on it. “Perhaps that is why you are full of demons.” I had to agree – he saw exactly what I experienced – and there was nothing more to say.

I went to bed like a condemned man,

afraid to dream.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Snake eyes: seeing clearly for safety and growth

Black magic, demons and darkness exist. They are part of the human experience. They may test us, teach us in ways no other teachers can, deepen us – or ruin us. These forces are not merely obstacles on the spiritual path; they are central to its definition, and learning how to relate to them is at the heart of any worthwhile relationship with a plant teacher like Ayahuasca.

Black magic, demons and darkness exist. And if we want to go some place meaningful, we need to acquaint ourselves with their myriad forms, to know and to understand them with eyes open. If we do not, they simply possess us; one way or another, they corrupt us.

But if we take one step in this direction, a question arises for honest contemplation:

Who of us sees clearly in the dark?

One may have lived in the same house for twenty years, yet when the lights go out he finds himself stranded in the living room, unable to recognise his own furniture. For it is the dark that in a sense allows us to become strangers to ourselves. As soon as darkness enters our experience, things are usually not what they appear to be. A kind of blinding has occurred.

safety: our survival instinct is to fight or flee dark experience

And as we become blind – as our normal, familiar way of seeing the world begins to fade – we may feel threatened, afraid and confused. The darkness can bring this up in us sometimes, can’t it, like when you’re standing there at night in your underwear and the dogs begin barking at something unknown … and the winds hiss and this old house rattles, and even though you know it is safe here, part of you conjures from the atmosphere a snake in the undergrowth, a man in a black coat just outside waiting for things to go quiet. Blind, afraid and confused, we call on our imagination to keep out unwelcome visitors. So as night comes on, the imagination swings loose, floods into active form, and becomes our lunar lens.

 

Of course this protective, threat-detecting behaviour is necessary, because darkness in a literal sense can in fact conceal danger: snakes can be deadly, men in black coats exist and occasionally visit houses for midnight purposes. In order to survive, human beings have had to obey the instinct towards protection and safety. Separation keeps us alive in the short-term. This is life from the point of view of our immune and sympathetic nervous systems: threat or friend? Good or bad? Me, not-me. Black, white.

but why are people drawn to the cosmic serpent?
Growth: the dark connects, evolves us

But to be alive in any meaningful sense of the word — and to evolve — it is not enough that we are safe, that threats are identified and kept at bay. To the contrary, dwelling only in the safe and knowable will suffocate us into sterile simulations of living and, ultimately, into pathology. Where would the butterfly be if it did not embrace the cocoon? In order to thrive we must honor our instinct towards growth, the magnetic core in each of us that longs for expansion, for experience, for union. Although darkness may lead to danger, it is also essential for life and growth and connection. Think of soil, its innate fertility. Think of the womb. In sleep, the dark restores us; our dreams need it to hatch. All of our friends were once strangers, potential threats. And for the human heart to feel less alone, it must learn how to befriend the dark strangers who dwell on the other side of its walls… to reconcile opposing or contradictory forces inside the self… to imagine worlds beyond the boundaries of the known.

To distinguish the threatening dark from the fertile dark — the capacity to see clearly — is critical for our safety as well as for our growth. But this is not easy to do because not only do we instinctively prioritise safety over growth, but we are masters at self-fragmentation and mental projection.

we are wired not to trust strangers:
“safety first”– growth second.

After all, who of us sees clearly in the dark. Naturally we have favoured our safety over our growth; survival is primary, growth secondary. Without immediate safety there can be no growth. This is why we are wired not to trust strangers. It is not a bad thing, it is only something to come to terms with when in the darkness of the ceremony space you become a stranger in a strange land — the same way you do when you dream each night.

we are masters at projection:
— interpreting the dreamspace of Ayahuasca

The human mind is wired for projection. Perhaps the clearest example is to consider what happens each night when — in darkness — we dream. The old way of seeing fades, rattles, falls away… and we become strangers to ourselves… in those colourful realms of our unconscious making. Each night, we practice so masterfully the magical trance of being lost in dream – fragmenting the sense of self, projecting the contents of our inner worlds into the imaginal realm and then losing ourselves utterly in our projections. It is a sort of disappearing act. But one could just as easily describe it as a possession.

Either way, the dream-show is so good that we lose ourselves in it. The better the magic, the deeper we go. And the best magic is intense, heavy with primordial symbolism, of sex and jealousy and annihilation and getting sawn in half, that echoes along the length of our terrified homo sapiens bones. In this regard, the dreams that draw us into the deepest trance are the ones in which evil chases us.


‘darkness’

is

a

verb

The day after my demon attack, I awoke in my jungle hut afraid and confused. The shaman had prepared a vapour bath for me, a traditional treatment for black magic and demonic possession. But I was feeling weak and slightly faint, so I decided not to do the bath that day, and instead went into the local town to shop at the market. It was there that I developed an extremely high fever and almost collapsed in the street. After checking myself into the emergency room at a hospital, I received the diagnosis that began to rattle my black-and-white concepts of Ayahuasca and shamanism:

I had malaria.

And once the malaria was cured, the demons vanished. What remained was the nascent understanding that

none of us sees clearly in the dark.

Darkness is never a ‘thing’ to begin with, a noun. We do not know a stranger directly. We do not see them as they are. Actually we can never know them as they are, but only who they are to us. To do this, we engage in a process of interpretation, of guess-work.

Imagine a soldier. To his family, he is a loving presence, a warm center. Other people call him: ‘friend’. Yet when I am at war, I call that same soldier: ‘enemy’. Darkness is a process of interpretation, a verb, it is something we do. It is an expression of our relationship with a strange other who we decide is ‘threatening’. After my experience I wondered what one malaria cell would look like inside the Ayahuasca dream-space from the point of view of another malaria cell.

On an intellectual level, of course, this is obvious stuff. But many people who drink Ayahusaca experience something very different on a gut/emotional/experiential level. On this more primal, mammalian plane, shit is real and scary; nature has taught us to take what we see literally. We believe we clearly see what is going on. If darkness appears, we believe — primate senses trembling with the anticipation of snake-bite — that the eye who sees, sees directly into the nature of an external other. We do not understand darkness as a relational act, an interpretive process necessary for our survival, but prone to presumption and prejudice.

Darkness shows us what is “threatening”

(it keeps our body “safe”)

That is the nature of darkness. In the imaginal realm – whether in a dream or Ayahuasca vision – darkness is an expression of what seems THREATENING.

The point I want to make here is not that all dark experiences are ‘hallucinations’ of the nervous system, but just that our tendency to ‘darkify’ what seems threatening is incredibly deep. It is deep because it has its roots in our physical survival systems. It is there for a very good reason and it functions all the time.

So darkness is an expression of what seems threatening. Threatening to what? What am I trying to protect by interpreting phenomena as dark enemies I need to defend against?

The obvious answer is: my body, the physical self. No body, no life. So must protect. Hence my malaria demons. Slay the baddies. Hence if you drink Ayahuasca while badly dehydrated, the threat felt by the nervous system can manifest as dark entities, utterly menacing the Jesus out of your visions. Or food poisoning – same story – nightmare on underdone Indian fish street.

(and it keeps our sense of self / existing software “safe”)

Yet inextricably bound to my physical self is another, deeper reality of the human being: my emotional/mental/psychic self. Actually there are many selves, many modules of consciousness. There is, to begin with, the fundamental ‘self-and-other’ program. Around this, a constellation of maps and images coalesce. These are the maps and images of reality, of identity, through which I make meaning, understand the world and my place in it. All of this is software. Whatever you believe about an immortal soul, our identity software still dominates our reality.

For good reason. Without the mental, emotional and psychic structures that comprise my sense(s) of self, I would shiver, adrift and naked in a terrifying sea of information known (by the sane) as the universe, and — while doing so — there’s a good chance I’d get hit by a bus and die.

Recall also that we have evolved as tribal creatures. Without functional maps and images of self I wouldn’t know what shirts to wear, how to stand out or be invisible, how to be the ape tolerated by the tribe. This could be disastrous. Our child self has known this for a very long time. We need functional images of self in order to be accepted by the ones who matter, or if we cannot be accepted, how to deal with the emotional reality of this and carry on.

So, sense of self, identity software: need it for acceptance, for stability, need it to live, must protect: how? Identify threats. Threats bad, threats dark. So darkness in dreams and in ceremony can also be an expression of what our self identity – our idea of who we are – deems threatening.

Now there is a distinction of brain-curdling gravity to be made here. The distinction between two kinds of threats. Can we tell these two apart,

a threat to the stability of your mental-emotional software programs

vs

a threat to physical (or spiritual or mental) safety?

Where the snake can take you

(homeward bound or deeper into the dark?)

Now the Ayahuasca experience is, in many respects, very much like a dream. And a dream — in symbolic snake tongue — will reflect the dimensions of self with pristine, uncompromising honesty. It will totally lay bare the relationships you have with various parts of yourself. This is fertile ground. In meeting the lonely reflections that roam here unhinged, and learning how to relate to them again, there is immense potential for growth. This open-eyed meeting is one of the primary ways we grow and give substance to the soul.

But the process can only happen if one can look deeply into the dark, has the will to see clearly, to deal with complexity, to challenge black-and-white ideas and beliefs, to tolerate contradictions, to feel… and to somehow hold steady under the mirror as she reflects to you the horrifying beauty of our world. This, I feel, is the holy venom Ayahuasca tries to transmit when she takes the form of a snake and compassionately advances.

The thing is, nobody likes snakes. Spaced-out primates least of all. The dreams that draw us into the deepest trance are the ones in which evil chases us. But as it happens, most of the time we are not afraid because we are being chased by monsters; monsters chase us because we are afraid. If this is so, can we cease the flight from ourselves long enough to listen? Or are we more interested in keeping safe and fattening up our shadows?

Here is the issue: most of us have defined who we are and how we see the world by ‘turning away’ from our pain and darkness, and this is the elephant we sneak with us into the ceremony room. We show up as life-long experts at self-fragmentation, specialists in separating ourselves from our darkness and projecting it outwards. Because this dualistic tendency has its roots in our survival machinery, no one is immune to its blinding. Not ‘spiritual people’, not shamans or those who have drunk Ayahuasca thousands of times.

Where would the butterfly be if it did not embrace the cocoon? In a mental asylum. Because when your depression appears as a demon; when your self-hatred becomes an evil entity ‘out there’ trying to get you; when the black magic of sexual abuse or life-long shame threatens your idea of who you think you are: do you fight it or do you try to relate to it? The answer to this question can define the path you walk with this medicine. By this I mean: one path leads to growth, the other leads deeper into the dark.

 

An ape in a neural thunderstorm

(blindness defines the human mind)

Darkness, demons and black magic exist. It is true, there are many different species which I will discuss in the next article. But before we begin slaying the enemy, we need to admit our non-rational origins as

— an ape in a neural thunderstorm —

quaking in blindness,
wired for duality and self-fragmentation and projection — a cosmic ape,
a dreaming ape, a loveable ape — but an ape we remain, especially on Ayahuasca.

If nothing else, remember this.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And if you are also willing to see, even if it feels uncomfortable, then we can talk some more about the fertile dark and about

what lies beyond the living room.