Ayahuasca Diaries: Night One, Chapter One.

The running joke at the start of each ceremony by Malcolm, our Master Shaman, was that every night we would be working so hard that it would be like "the first night" - which for this group of experienced participants (we had almost 30 repeat visitors at this retreat!) would delve straight into some serious cleansing.

He would begin each ceremonial lecture with "Who's ready for some ayahuasca? Night one!"

And we would all laugh. Because we knew they were pushing us hard. And we agreed to work hard in the space.

Nine months earlier, I had ended my last ayahuasca tour spending most of the ceremonies lying on a mat, meditating in a lovely space. It wasn't as strong an experience as the first tour I did. But it was so lovely just the same.  I'd expected this retreat to pick up where that had left off.

And at first, I thought that was the path I was on.

Boy was I full of crazy!

As always, after Malcolm's lecture, Maestro Don Alberto would walk in with his son (also a Maetsro Ayahuaschero Shaman) and we would clap and cheer. Maestro Don Alberto is a gentle and sweet man. He would graciously accept our cheers and enthusiasm for the medicine work he was about to help us all through.

He picked up the bottle ayahuasca (this night's bottle was a leftover stream from the April tour - so it was aged about three months) and sang the icaro in it. Once he was done, it was divvied up into smaller bottle to pour out to us in plastic cups as we went up to sit in front of one of either Malcolm or Maestro.

Since I was in the first chair after all of the assistants and volunteers on Maestro's side, I was the first one to go up to be served by him each night. Tonight, I would be starting the retreat week with a quarter of the cup - the largest dose I did at my last retreat.

"How much do you want?" Matt, the Shaman in training asked as he walked me up.

"A quarter, please."

"Quattro, Maestro," he said to him.

It was poured. Maestro asked for my name. "Heather." Then he whistled my icaro into the cup. I closed my eyes as the melody began...

"Papa Tua (the medicine spirit for ayahuasca)," I said, "please help ground me and cleanse me. Strip away what I don't need, that which doesn't serve me. Take it. "


Mastro blew into the cup and handed it to me.

"Gracias, Maestro," I said. I walked back to my seat, avoiding smelling it.

As I sat down, though, I got a bit of it's perfume. My body convulsed in a shudder as a response.

Hill was seated next to me. She would soon learn about this reaction herself.

I was not looking forward to choking down the medicine.

Everyone had their cups, and Maestro served himself.  He whistled his own icaro. WHOOSH into the cup.

"Salute," said Malcolm. We all lifted our cups and then brought them to our mouths.

Tobacco. Bitter coffee, Robitussin.

That's what I started. It was not easy to get down.

I grabbed the mapacho (Peruvian cigar) I'd placed in my chair and lit it. I puffed on it to take away the taste of the medicine lingering in my mouth. I refused to rinse my mouth with the water to remove the taste. I saw that as disrespectful to the medicine.

The ayahuasca liked the mapacho. I wasn't inhaling it... But puffing away on the pure tobacco, it started to warm me up. Soon I was finished with it. And the lights on the kerosene lamps had been turned out. We were in total darkness.

After a few minutes the gentle shaking of the chakapa leaf rattle began, along with a whistled icaro.   It would take about 45 minutes for the medicine to kick in for me. And when it did, it was a gentle glide back into the shapes vibrating and moving to the icaro sound.

Stripes in two shades of purple (one a mauve-color and one an eggplant color) danced together. Shapes of animals would pop up in them. Some animals I knew what they were... Like the tiger. Others were too ancient but still familiar to name. They were strong animals, but kind. They weren't scary.

Then I saw a triangle of light with an emerald green eye peering at me. I asked what it was, and was told this was what my inner eye - the third eye - looked like.

I cast out great big yawns. But there were moments where I felt a discomfort coming on, and a thought of puking.

Then chills came into me. I was so cold.

And water started seeping from the outer corners of my eyes. They weren't tears.

I got up out of my seat to pee a few times. Each time I did so, I was impressed by how much liquid was in me coming out.

"This is a great purge," I said.

"You need it," said the Medicine. "You've got a project to give birth to. You need to empty the space so you can start to grow it."

For a few minutes I was convinced the Medicine was trying to tell me I was pregnant. But eventually I understood. 

The rest of the ceremony was a conversation between the Medicine Spirit and myself about how distracted I've been when Ii comes to my writing. I am epic at finding excuses to avoid doing it, even though it's what my heart longs to do.

I paused for a moment to listen to the stories around me in the room. The various icaros being sung all at once. The vomiting. The crying purge of the person sitting next to me.  Shuffles to the bathrooms. The showers running.

"There are so many stories in this house tonight," I said. 

And that's when she popped into my head. The woman rocking back and forth, bundled in a blanket. She herself was in an ayahuasca ceremony.  Only she had something that was hidden beneath that blanket. It was a pregnancy. There was a baby in her. And even though it was smaller that her finger nail, she wanted to stay in the space and continue to rock with the baby inside her, beneath the blanket. Her eyes closed.

"I'm going to rock just like this till the baby comes. I am not going to get up or open my eyes until this baby is born,"

I hoped no one would disturb her.

I left the conversation with that woman and moved onto others. Before i knew it, ceremony was over, and the lamps were being relit.

Loretta, Malcolm's wife, gently played her musical instruments while we all "landed safely," as Malcolm put it.

I walked back to my bungalow in the dark, forgetting to worry about Hill and Bea.

"I have maraceon," I said to myself when I got there.

"Oh god!" I thought, "What if I stay like this the whole week? I can't take anymore ayahuasca! This feeling - as lovely as it is - is going to need to rest."

It took till almost 6am the following morning for the effects of the medicine to wear off.