Ayahuasca: My Journey Through Death, Rebirth, and Transformation- Part 1

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“When you drink ayahuasca, and you get to see divinity, you can almost never speak of it because it’s too big for words.” -Gerard Powell

After four ayahuasca ceremonies at Rythmia, a spiritual/healing retreat in Costa Rica, I agree with Gerry Powell- I’m at a loss for words. That week was so tumultuous, unprecedented, and transformational that I’m still wondering if it all actually happened. I’m going to do my best to try describing the indescribable and hopefully paint a clear image of my experience with the plant medicine. I’ve really debated whether or not to share all of the personal shit that came up during my week at Rythmia, but I’ve decided that the most authentic and beneficial thing that I can do is honestly share my experience with the world in the hopes that it may provide some insight or benefit for others. There’s also some really gnarly shit that I got rid of during my week of purging, and I feel like writing about it will bring closure to those toxic parts of my past so that I can move on from them forever.

Before we air all of Christian’s dirty laundry and jump down the rabbit hole of my psychedelic escapades, I highly suggest you read my first post on ayahuasca if you haven’t already. I wrote it first to give a more general understanding and overarching view of the medicine so you guys had a good idea of what ayahuasca actually is and how it affects the human body. You can read it here. It’s going to make this post much more digestible, as I’ll primarily just be covering personal anecdotal experiences at Rythmia, and not giving any background to the ayahuasca itself.

Seriously though, read it first.

Also, it should be mentioned that I fasted for 7 days before drinking the ayahuasca tea. This was a decision I made to better prepare myself physically and mentally for the ceremony, and one that I feel like definitely paid off.

One final note before I let you all into my skeleton riddled closet. I’m not writing this post to get any sympathy, praise, or attention from anyone. The reason I’m sharing these experiences is in hopes that it can in some way help others to understand and face their own demons and bring more love into the world. I want you all to know that there really are ways to heal and reconnect with your scared and damaged inner child. The miracle I experienced at Rythmia is by no means unique to me, and ayahuasca has been healing hurt humans for thousands of years. It’s genuinely a connection back to Mother Earth.

In the Beginning

I arrived at Rythmia in a very Costa Rican looking taxi. My first impression of the resort was: “Wow, this is all four grand gets you huh?” Don’t get me wrong, it’s nice, but 4-5K for a single week nice? I was a bit skeptical. Little did I know that the value I was going to be getting didn’t come in the form of five-star luxury or endless amenities. The value that Rythmia offers is of the spiritual, communal, and transcendent variety. It seems impossible to quantify in dollars or colònes. After checking in and exploring the grounds, I headed to my first yoga class. The yoga was very meditative and spiritually oriented, as were the rest of the classes throughout the week. It wasn’t the power flow vinyasa I love, but it really got me centered and prepared me for the work ahead.

The first ceremony at Rythmia didn’t include any plant medicine at all. In fact, the session was all about something we take for granted daily: breathe. My first night at the resort was capped off by a one-hour breath-work sitting that really surprised me. I had experienced some crazy shit with the Wim Hof breathing method before, but nothing this intense. We spent one-hour taking deep belly breaths and supercharging our bodies with oxygen and energy. Everyone would breathe until we would get to the point that there was so much energy in our bodies that our fingers and limbs would be completely stiff and tensed. At this point, we did something called “toning,” which involved yelling at the top of our lungs and flailing our arms and legs on the blankets we were laying on. This sounds pretty fucking weird, and it is. But the weirdest part: it works.

Towards the end of the hour of breathing, yelling, and flailing, I began to feel overwhelmed with emotion. You see, about 10 months ago, I had a falling out with one of my closest friends. We used to be partners in crime, spending time together almost daily, then we suddenly stopped hanging out or even talking to each other. It was challenging for me because I had invested years and years into building this friendship, just to see it come tumbling down. I had done my best to move on from the relationship and buried the pain, but it was all suddenly coming to the surface and boiling over. Tears began streaming down my face as I breathed, sobbed, yelled, and flailed on my blanket. I realized I had never actually done anything to resolve all that pain and sadness I had felt from losing a platonic friend.

This cry was a solid 10 months overdue. So cry I did. Wave after wave of regret and sadness washed over me. I thought of many of the great moments and connection of brotherhood we had shared together. I poured out all the emotion that I had kept bottled inside of me for months… and then it was gone. I felt like a monkey was lifted off of my back. What the hell? I hadn’t even taken any psychedelic tea yet, and I was already letting shit go. This was going to be an interesting week.

The following day included some morning yoga, a couple seminars and classes to prepare us for the medicine, and one very unsettling colonic cleanse. I’ve never voluntarily blasted water up my ass through a tube before, and I didn’t enjoy the feeling. I felt like someone in a kinky video on Pornhub.

Feeling clean and prepared after 7 days of fasting

Having fasted for the 7 days leading up to the cleanse, I was stunned to see I still had some shit to get out of me. It really freaks me out that our bodies might still be carrying around a little “extra” in our intestines after 7 days of not eating food. However, it’s great prep for a week of purging. I talk about purging in my Intro to Ayahuasca post, but if you need a refresher, purging can be anything from puking and shitting to laughing and crying to everything in between. Ayahuasca forces things out in very bizarre ways. With all the fasting, the cleanse, the yoga, and the breath-work, I was now feeling more ready than ever to dance with Mother Ayahuasca.

 

 

First Ceremony

As mentioned in my first post about ayahuasca, intention is everything. At Rythmia, they have established three main intentions that they encourage everyone to focus on first before they go off to pick up their endless luggage at emotional baggage claim. These main intentions are the fuel behind the “I got my miracle” slogan that Rythmia employees and alumni espouse. The three intentions to begin with were:

1. Show me who I have become. This intention is asking ayahuasca to let me see the reality of who I am now, and how I got here. This includes examining all the uncomfortable and gnarly shit that nobody wants to believe about themselves. It’s the hard part. It also involves an unsettling amount of purging.

2. Merge me back with my soul at all costs. This intention is based on the premise that there is a schism that takes place in all of our lives at some point during our childhood. This schism usually involves some kind of traumatic event or negative experience early on in life. We go from being whole beings in harmony with spirit to losing touch with our soul and being separated from it. We then operate out of the position of the ego for the remainder of our lives. The intent is to re-connect with our soul and become as we were in the beginning- whole.

3. Heal my heart. This intention is about picking up the pieces of our broken and damaged heart, and renewing it back to it’s full and healthy state. You might think of this as healing our inner child and reconnecting with pure love.These intentions seemed a bit “out there” to me at first, but I tried to approach the ceremony as sincerely as possible.

As I was waiting for the ceremony to begin, I lay on my bed in the meloka meditating, focusing on the three intentions listed above. Then it was time. Each ceremony began with a group meeting at the center of the meloka. We all listened intently while the two shaman women gave us instruction on how the proceedings would go.

Then we all lined up to receive a dose of rapè- a tobacco snuff used traditionally by shamans. It is considered a sacred medicine in its own rite and is administered by the shaman by blowing the tobacco powder up one’s nose via a particular pipe called a Tepi. First I’m blowing water up my ass, and now tobacco powder up my nose. Great start to the week. The rapè was intense at first and caused plenty of eye-watering and loogie ejecting. However, the stimulating effect of the rapè is actually quite lovely. The tobacco is used to open the mind to intention as well as to provide a grounding impact. It is also believed to have protective energetic effects and shamans use it to intensify their connection to the spirit realm.

With the rapè administered, it was time for shit to get real. We all lined up to drink the tea, one by one. I’ve mentioned it in previous posts, but it needs to be repeated: ayahuasca is the foulest tasting concoction ever. It takes some serious willpower to drink it and keep it down. To make matters worse, you aren’t supposed to mix water with the brew, so you can’t wash it down. It’s fucking brutal. I lay on my bed staring up at the ceiling of the meloka, waiting in nervous anticipation for the effects to kick in. About 30 sweaty minutes later, my journey began.

The effects were subtle at first, starting with a tingling sensation in my stomach and my head. I swear I could feel the ayahuasca coursing inside of my veins and making its way throughout my body. Then the visions began. I use the term “visions,” but this wasn’t as if events just spanned out in my visual field. Instead, it was more as if I was experiencing the vision with all of my senses. It was like living the experience, even though I knew my body was still laying on my bed in the meloka.

The first vision was one associated with some humiliation from my childhood. I vividly relived having an accident while being potty trained when I was just four or five. I was a kid again, walking to the bathroom in shame because I hadn’t made it there fast enough and had pooped my pants. This humiliation felt so real, and the poopy pants were soon accompanied by experiences of peeing my bed as a kid. The good news is I’m all potty trained now, but it was like years and years of built up embarrassment was overwhelming me all at once. Suddenly I felt a strong urge to pee and hurried from my bed to the bathroom of the meloka. With a torrential release from my bladder, I felt all of my humiliation somehow drain out of me. It was as if the pee was actually the shame itself. That was one satisfying fucking pee.

Next on the laundry list was fear. Specifically, fear of harm coming to my loved ones. No sooner had I felt this fear, I began to hear my mother crying. It sounded identical to her crying, but it was coming from some other woman from across the meloka. Earlier that day we had learned that we would all be somehow connected during the ceremony and I began to realize what that meant. It felt as though ayahuasca was interacting between all of us and sometimes others would play a role in your journey.

There was a wonderful woman on the bed next to me who I began associating with the concept of mother. As soon as this association took place, she suddenly started crying. The crying escalated to whimpering and sobbing, and I could feel the pain and fear emanating from her. A memory came to my mind of seeing my mother crying and puking in her bathroom as she struggled with some illness. I must have been only a small child, and she didn’t see me there watching. Then came the realization that much of my own fear in life has been unintentionally passed to me from my mother when I was a child. The vision shifted to my mother breastfeeding me, and once again she was crying. Somehow I could feel those emotions of anxiety and fear being passed to the infant through her milk. As quickly as the vision had begun, I felt it ending, and I rushed to the bathroom to purge. I’ll try not to get too graphic with purge details, but I will say, the smell of fear is horrible.

 

Art by Alex Grey

After purging, I heard the call from the shaman for the second cup. God dammit. The last thing I wanted to do was drink more of this nasty shit, but I knew I needed to. I had promised myself that if I could physically get up and walk to the shaman, I would drink if it was offered. I stumbled up to the shaman like a little boy who’s been forced to “go pick out a stick.” I knew a beating was coming, and I was scared shitless. Err maybe not shitless, as there was definitely more purging to do.

 

The first ceremonies final test was the most difficult. More fear, but this time it was of mortality. I felt the fear of death slowly creep up my spine and into every inch of my body. This was anxiety like I had never experienced. I’ve had a couple of scary ego death experiences with psychedelics in the past, but nothing nearly as brutal as this. I felt myself thirsting to death, and suddenly I was too weak to even call out for help. I lay on my bed helpless, as I slowly dehydrated into oblivion. I held on for as long as I could, telling myself that I still had so much to live for. I wasn’t ready to go, but ayahuasca had different plans for me that night. Soon my willpower and resolve to live dissolved and began to shift to a pathetic plea for death. Anything to end this horrible suffering. I was the embodiment of pure thirst. I saw my funeral taking place before me. I saw everyone gathered to celebrate my achievements and morn my passing. It all seemed more real than real. I was no longer in the meloka wondering when this shitty night would end, but instead, I was at the gates of death, begging for it to be merciful and take me quickly. Then, with one final weak exhale, death obliged.

I don’t know how long I was gone, but there was undoubtedly a period of time when the awareness that I associate with “me” or “I” was completely gone. In my place, there was nothing and everything. I was in beautiful oneness with all things. I wasn’t separate from anything, but rather the complete universe and the very fabric of reality itself. This was unequivocally the most beautiful experience of my life, and no words could ever do it justice. I will try to describe it as a word from Buddhism. Nirvana: a transcendent state in which there is neither suffering, desire, nor sense of self, and the subject is released from the effects of karma and the cycle of death and rebirth. The next thing I remember was renewed life, urgently pushing its way into my lungs. I was escaping the claustrophobic birth canal and breathing in fresh life, for what seemed like the first time. I became aware that life is breath, and breath is life. Our breath is the bridge to the creative force of all life. I felt that breath connecting me to all life and all things.

 

Art by Alex Grey

The remaining couple of hours of the ceremony would be some of my favorite hours in any recent memory. They were the yin to the yang of all the humiliation, fear, and suffering I had experienced up to that point. I experienced growing up all over again. I transformed from infant to toddler, to child, to adolescent, to man. I lived each experience in absolute novelty. I was seeing the world through the lens of a child. I was filled with curiosity, wonder, and playfulness. The music playing in the meloka was ecstasy. I danced on my bed and hummed along to the tune. I felt my childlike mood shift towards adventure and exploration. I wanted to see the world and be somebody great. I wanted to become an astronaut and explore the stars. Then it shifted to responsibility and the desire to do something meaningful and useful. I was going to leave the world better than I found it. I was left utterly full of joy and pure bliss. My smile wouldn’t get much time off until thefollowing night.

 

2nd Ceremony

I came into the second ceremony with a grin on my face and optimism in my heart. Despite all the struggle and work that it took, the first ceremony was nothing short of life-changing, so I was rearing to go for the second night. My intentions for the second ceremony were as follows:

1. Release any fear and shame programming. The first night had done wonders as far as releasing toxic fear and shame, but I still felt as though I had work to do. I knew some items still needed to come up and purge out of me.

2. Open my third eye. This one is a bit wackier. I wrote this post earlier about an experience I had in a float tank were I felt my chakra energy centers open, and I became more attuned to my energy and the energy around me. One realization I had when this took place, was that my third eye needed to be opened. In other words, my pineal gland was calcified, as most people’s are. If you’re saying to yourself, “what the hell is he talking about?” you can learn more about this here.

3. Show me who I am. I’m not trying to make myself sound special in any way, but throughout my life, I’ve always kind of felt like I haven’t belonged. I felt out of place in the small religious community I grew up in, and that life didn’t really resonate with me. When I moved to Las Vegas and joined the world of chasing dollars and parties, this didn’t sit well with me either. I’ve always had the drive to get out and explore, almost as if there was something about myself that I needed to discover. This is a recurring ordeal for me whenever I take psychedelics. I feel as though they launch me into “The Hero’s Journey” that Joseph Campbell writes about. For this reason, I wanted insight into who I really am and my purpose here on Earth.

With my intentions solidified after a meditation in the meloka, I went up to the shaman to receive the rapè, followed shortly after by my first cup of ayahuasca. The first effects were subtle. My stomach rumbled for a few minutes as the sludge moved through my body, but then it settled down, and I felt reasonably normal again. After an uneventful first hour, I decided to go outside and look at the stars. I walked across the grass lawn of the meloka and plopped down into one of the many hammocks to star gaze at the moonless night sky.

I hadn’t been laying there for more than a few minutes before I started to feel something strange. I felt a slight tingling sensation in my forehead directly between and slightly above my eyebrows. Then I felt a force move my head to the right. It wasn’t intense, just a gentle nudge that forced my gaze over my right shoulder. Then another push forcing my head to the left. This cycle repeated several times, during which I felt sensations in my forehead continuously. What the actual fuck was going on? One of the things we had been informed about on the first day at Rythmia, was that many people receive “surgery” during the ceremonies. This surgery can supposedly be administered by aliens, spiritual beings, or guides. Naturally, I wrote it off as some wacky bullshit that couldn’t possibly be real, but here I was getting my head adjusted by some invisible force, while something was clearly going on inside my forehead. I guess asking to get your third eye opened involves some kind of weird-ass paranormal surgery.

Art by Alex Grey

Then, as if a switch was flipped in my brain, I felt different. I snapped into some other awareness, like a light bulb turning on in my head. I realized the surgery was over. My third eye had been healed. It wasn’t like I was looking out at an ethereal world of spirit and aliens, but I definitely felt like something was different. I felt more aware and more awake. You might think of it like cranking up that feeling of intuition by multiple magnitudes. That “still small voice” or that “gut feeling” just got a whole lot louder. I looked up at the vastness of space, soaking in the magnificence of the star-dusted sky. My gaze fixated on the brightest star, and I instantly felt the effects of my new and improved third eye. It was loud and clear: “That star is Sirius… and it’s my home.” Uhhh…. come again? I’m still trying to process the concept of a higher dimensional being performing surgery on my brain, and now I’m supposed to be from another star? What the fuck is that supposed to mean? Instead of getting an answer, I was told to go back inside. I was really enjoying the stars and the comfort of my hammock, but the feeling was apparent- go back inside the meloka. Confused, contemplative, and a bit mind-fucked, I reluctantly went inside.

Right as I entered the meloka, I heard the call for the second cup. Oh, balls. Playtime was over. I dragged my feet up to the shaman, with a gut feeling that the rest of tonight wasn’t going to include hammock swinging and star gazing. After forcing the brew down, I walked back to my bed with a few gags and coughs. My concept of time seemed to slip away, but eventually, I began to feel the gentle nudging and moving of my head again. More surgery? Shit, I guess so. This time around I could feel the presence of the entity causing the nudging. I couldn’t see it, but somehow I knew what it was. It was an alien. This sounds like I’ve lost my marbles, but at that moment there was no doubt in my mind that I was encountering an alien entity. I was really having a hard time processing this, but ayahuasca had already destroyed my views of what I thought was possible, and she wasn’t about to wait for me to get my shit together. They told us on the first day at Rythmia not to fight the medicine and to surrender to it, so I took some deep breaths and tried to relax into it…Bad fucking move.

Once I had let my guard down and relaxed, the nudging from the alien became more intense. It soon turned to what felt like prodding and poking. I then felt my legs and arms beginning to twitch and move in uncontrolled and jerky motions. Uncertainty and fear began to consume me. This didn’t feel like a loving surgery with the intention of healing or helping me. This felt much more like something or someone playing games with me and using me. I decided I needed to fight back somehow and make this shit stop, but I was too late. As I tried to stop my body from shaking or twitching, I realized in horror that I no longer had control. I was a helpless bystander, watching my body react to all kinds of commands that I didn’t issue. Imagine spending you’re whole life in the driver’s seat of your mind and body, then suddenly you’re in the passenger seat, and the driver is a fucking alien. This was my biggest nightmare.

This is extremely hard to write about, but I feel like a little backstory is needed to understand why ayahuasca put me through this experience. When I was a boy, I was sexually abused. I know I’m not a special case, and countless others have been abused and damaged in much worse ways than I was. However, this abuse and trauma that I was carrying with me was the root cause of this fear and the alien possession experience. As the alien began taking over more and more of my body, I started having visions of the event of my abuse as a boy. This memory was one that I had buried deep within the recesses of my mind, pretending it had never happened and trying to ignore the damage it had caused. Now ayahuasca was forcing it all to the surface by the most horrific means possible. She forced me to relive the shame of having someone else use my body for their own pleasure or twisted desires. I felt the complete emptiness and lack of self-worth that all sexual abuse victims must feel. I wasn’t just re-living my memory from childhood, but I was experiencing something even worse. I was experiencing the ultimate rape. One that involves a total loss of control as someone or something uses your body for its own fucked up experimental exploits. It was truly the most horrific thing I’ve ever experienced. I don’t know if I’ve ever been laid so low in all of my life.

I don’t know how long I lay there, trying to cry out for help or run away but helpless and trapped. It felt like an eternity. I felt the alien forcing his way into my body more and more. It seemed to sap and suck out all of my energy. It was as if it was draining my very life force and it left me feeling exhausted and depleted. Then suddenly, my savior arrived.

One of the shaman’s assistants walked by the row of beds carrying a bowl of burning coals. I’m not sure what was burning inside, but as he fanned his wyra of bamboo leaves, the smoke spread out and settled over me, and I felt the alien recoil. It was forced away temporarily. Yes! I could move again. Now I was going to get the fuck out of this place. Why in the hell had I ever subjected myself to this bullshit? My fear and anxiety began morphing into anger and rage. I quickly walked outside, but as soon as I had left the protection of the smoke, I felt the bastard trying to get back in. I hurried to the fire pit outside, hoping the smoke would provide some solace. After the ceremony, I would hear accounts from two other men that saw me by the fire, and both of them said I didn’t look like me. I appeared as a tale, pale, and featureless alien.

One of the shamans was standing by the fire, and I immediately began unloading all of the anger that was suddenly boiling out of me. I shouldn’t have been taking any of this anger out on her, as the real source of my rage was directed at the alien, the man who had abused me, and myself for letting any of this happen. She quickly quieted me down and offered to bring me back inside for a healing. Feeling as though I was barely hanging onto control of my body by a thread, I had no other options. I needed help.

She briskly lead me up to the center of the meloka where the head shaman sat quietly. I fell to my knees in front of him and gasped: “Help me. I’ve been possessed. He’s taken all of my energy.” Without hesitation, he said: “Okay” and started getting to work. He began chanting and making a strange “whoosh” noise that seemed to make the dark presence inside and around me uncomfortable. He then poured a strange alcohol smelling solution on his wyra (bamboo leaf fan) and started dusting me off with it. It felt amazing. It was slowly driving the entity out and allowing more of my authentic self in. I pulled my shirt off so he could get more of the alcohol lotion on my skin. The shaman filled his mouth with the tonic and sprayed it over me. He repeated this several times until I was covered in it. Continuing the chanting and the whooshing, he passed the wyra all over me. Then, as if by some miracle, it was gone. I was me again. I was still depleted and out of energy, but I was back in full control. I fell forward and gave the man my most sincere embrace. “Thank you!” I exclaimed. “You just saved my life. I love you brother.”

As I wandered back to my bed, shell-shocked and disoriented, I had an epiphany. I still felt all the shame, worthlessness, and self-deprecation associated with being a victim of such a heinous act as sexual abuse or possession, but now I realized something profound. The shame wasn’t even mine. It was his. Someone had hurt him. He was a victim of the same vicious cycle. This cycle had been repeating over and over. I realized that it’s the hurt people who are the ones that hurt people, and this hurting had been going on in my ancestral lineage for generations. That horrible experience was showing me the pain, shame, and self-loathing that he was carrying and had somehow passed to me. I felt the urge to speak said out loud: “this ends now!” and instantly I felt the need to purge. I ran to the bathroom and purged out the foulest thing that has ever left my body. It was generations of physical and sexual abuse from a family lineage riddled by it. It was guilt, shame, disgust, and a lack of self-worth. It was pain, trauma, and despair. It was anger, rage, and the desire to kill anyone responsible for these horrific acts. And with the sound of a flush, it left my life forever.

Once again, I don’t write any of this for pity or recognition of any kind. I write it because there are countless others out there whose backs are breaking from carrying the heaviest of burdens. I want you to know, that that weight was given to you by another and it doesn’t have to be yours to carry. Forgiveness and love are the only ways to heal the deepest scars. Sometimes it takes going to the most uncomfortable and horrible places to see that love is the only path to undo what seems to be irreparable damage. To the man who hurt the twelve-year-old me, and for all others who carry around similar skeletons in their past, I want you to know, I’m so sorry that you had to experience this horrible trauma. I love you. I forgive you. I choose to bear this burden no longer, and I invite you to free yourselves from it as well.

As this post is getting to be much lengthier than anticipated, I’ll finish recounting the tale of Rythmia with part 2.