Welcome to the Jungle
My first journey on Ayahuasca/meeting the Dirt Mother Goddess
I recently spent a weekend on Ayahuasca (hallucinogenic brew from the Amazon) and it was the most significant spiritual experience of my life. Here’s what happened…
The first night
I realize I need to apologize to every ex-girlfriend I’ve ever had because my dad was a prosecutor. And as the word prosecutor hits my brain, I vomit.
Because the plant makes you sick. It is part of the process. It is a purge. A cleanse. Some vomit a lot, some not at all. For me, it happens as I am lying on my side.
I think of my father and my childhood and who I’ve become and how I behave in relationships. The way I’m prone to judgement. When you look for what’s wrong, you find it. Hammers see nails.
He was always finding faults, collecting evidence, and building a case. It was his job. And fathers hand their mazes down to their sons. I’ve made women I loved feel judged when I should have just listened. Lovers do not need a prosecutor, they need a witness.
My dad was a seeker of justice. And in a court of law, that’s a beautiful thing. But there is no justice in the court of the heart. It is all criminal. Love is a den of thieves who constantly forgive each other for their thefts.
And then I heave and heave. Brain and body combining to evict every last drop of this idea. Like a cosmic punchline. No idea can have an exclamation point as powerful as vomit. It feels like the plant telling me: If you remember nothing else from tonight, remember this.
Plant as teacher
I am meeting the, hmm, how do I put this without sounding like some weird hippie? Eh, fuck it. I am meeting the Dirt Mother Goddess tonight. I drank Ayahuasca and the planet is speaking to me. It crawls through me and around me and grows over and under me, like ivy covering outfield walls.
This plant teacher isn’t doing anything cruel. It’s holding me up. It’s supporting me. It’s welcoming me. It’s pushing me out of the nest while also giving me a place to return. And letting me know that when all is said and done, it will have a place for me. It will accept me. And that I will become the earth once again. And then new vines will grow out of me.
We don’t pay enough attention to plants. They are communicating all the time. We never shut up though, so we don’t hear them. They have the intelligence of their DNA. Centuries of wisdom. Human genius is nothing compared to plant genius. We think we are individuals, the earth knows it is rooted together.
We’ve got a lot of nerve inventing a God. The Earth is right here all along. And it never asks to be worshipped. It does not need to be praised. It does not ask us to bow down before it. In fact, it’s the opposite — it lets us trample all over it. Her. It lets us walk on her. It lets us taste her fruits and climb her trees. She takes the sunlight and converts its into food. She gives us medicine to heal our wounds, both physical and emotional. She gives us everything.
And what does man do? What he always does: Ask for more. “Thanks a lot, Earth. Now where’s the oil? And then I’ve got some fracking to do. Oh, and here’s some styrofoam that I’m just going to shove up your gut forever.”
Yet the earth keeps giving us chances. And keeps trying to show us the way. She is a champion of subtlety. Because you must listen closely. You must pay attention. The earth does not scream, it hints. It sways in the breeze. She is one coy fucker.
Lately it feels like the Earth is trying to warn us, like a benevolent parent. It is trying to take us on a majestic vacation to a wondrous place while we fidget and throw tantrums in the backseat. And maybe all this climate change hullabaloo is the planet pulling the car over to the side of the highway and saying, “If you don’t stop this nonsense, I’m going to turn this car around right now!”
I am not on drugs. I am on medicine. See, we call our medicine drugs and we call our drugs medicine. It’s fucked up. We try to use our brains and our technology to make “improvements.” But there are things you can’t improve in a laboratory. We don’t understand the soul of a carrot. We lose something when we idolize efficiency.
If you really need it, it’s here already.
Ladies, you know how you love Don Draper? He is so dreamy. This man with the superhero jaw. So masculine he makes us quiver. Well, he was created by a short, bald, middle aged Jew who sits at a keyboard. He is the one who is turning you on. There is no Draper, just a Weiner.
Pull the curtain back and find the Weiner behind the Draper. The Wizard of Oz as he really is. We use stories to infate ourselves and to carry our ideas. They take our messages and our dreams and turn them into a Thanksgiving Day float that soars across the parade route of time. We want to tell a story that floats across time.
Let us stop for a moment and appreciate the men who came up with the Bible. They wrote a story so good that it hooks generation after generation. It’s so good that we attack and even murder those who do not believe our version of the story. Now that’s a fucking tale.
It’s every religion too. Always the same story. Christianity/Judaism/Islam/etc. Just different flavors. You can go for Rocky Road or Mint Chocolate Chip or Pistachio, but you’re still at Baskin Robbins.
You don’t know me from the wind
You never will, you never did
I’m the little jew
Who wrote the Bible
I’ve seen the nations rise and fall
I’ve heard their stories, heard them all
But love’s the only engine
-Leonard Cohen, “The Future”
The power of humility
Forgiveness. Humility. These things kept coming up. That the ultimate ruler does not need to be worshipped. The ultimate ruler has no rules. The way to rule is by serving. If you are a well, they will come and drink from you. If you spray your hose, they run away.
I’ve always been suspicious of authority. It demands respect instead of earning it. But from this plant I hear, “I am here to serve. I am here as an ambassador for the planet. I want to show you what she has shown me. I want to guide you, but I don’t want to take from you. Let us listen together. And let us share in the joy.”
This is worship I can get behind. It is the humility of the Vietnam Memorial as opposed to the poke-you-in-the-eye of the Washington Monument.
So much of our sturm und drang is a result of fighting ourselves. If you know yourself, people will sense it. They will come to you. They will gravitate toward the calmness and tranquility you emanate.
The Shaman guides us through the process. We talk afterwards. He tells us his origin story. How he was a 33 year-old, wealthy businessman living in Europe who owned companies and did lots of drugs and had “the life” but felt dissatisfied and empty inside. Then, he took a trip back home to South America, went to the jungle, and discovered the plant. After, he went back to Europe and sold everything he owned. He realized the money and material things did not fulfill him. So he returned to the jungle. And spent eight years there learning from the natives. And now he brings the plant to others.
He administers the potion and then he waits. And when he senses the plant is taking hold, he strikes bells with a mallet. The overtones hover. And then he begins to sing. His rattler keeps the beat.
I am seated next to a sweet Japanese girl. She’s done it several times before. Before the ceremony started, I asked if she had any advice for me. She told me, “If your mind ever starts to wander or wind up somewhere you feel uncomfortable, just tune into the singing the Shaman does. The singing is there to guide you.”
So now I tune in. His singing is beautiful. A drone of sorts. It is in Spanish yet reminds me of Ravi Shankar, “Tomorrow Never Knows,” Kraftwerk, Spiritualized, and this one Nick Drake song called “Know” that hovers on one chord and lets the melody undulate around it.
The singing is hypnotic. The repetition. The lack of change. A dance where you stay in one spot. The drone.
And he walks through the room. Spitting out a mist from something that looks like a perfume bottle. Maybe this mist wards off dangerous elements and allows beauty to flourish? Or maybe I made that up. And he rattles and drones and soothes. And eventually he returns to his seat and when the last note of his song rings out, he pauses for a moment, drops his rattle on the ground, and leans back.
My interpretation: Now it is up to you again. It is always up to you. It is not out there. It is in here.
And when the ceremony comes to its final conclusion, the Shaman pulls out an iPad and clicks play. The song that plays is the ending theme to Looney Tunes cartoons. Th-th-th-that’s all folks!
The second night
There’s a deeper?
I figured I would just do the first night. But the Shaman encouraged me to come back again. He says for beginners, the first night opens you up. The second night is when you go deeper. I think to myself, “There’s a deeper? Jesus.” But I return. Part of me is sad I am missing the end of the Super Bowl. Later that will seem silly.
As the second evening approaches, I realize the plant has me right where it wants me. I have barely been eating for the past two days and haven’t slept much. I am tired, weak, and hungry. And I’ve still got last night’s medicine inside me. Now it’s getting reinforcements. It is calling in additional troops.
Tonight, I bring a larger notebook. It is difficult writing in the dark. I scratch things down not knowing if I will be able to read them later. But I try, wanting to capture the thoughts and beauty that I hope will arrive. (I’ll put the things that are from my notebook in italics.)
Dirt mother goddess
“I took all your shit and turned it into fertilizer.”
Man conspires to build great monuments. Temples, cathedrals, skyscrapers. But the Earth plays a long game. And it always wins.
I remember visiting the temples of Angkor Wat in Cambodia years ago on a backpacking trip. The “clean” temples (the ones that had jungle and moss stripped away) were amazing. But the ones that were left swallowed up by the jungle had a completely different vibe. They were incredible structures consumed by the planet. Plants growing in, around, and through the stone. Man can build its temples. But the trees will win in the end.
I am going under again. I sense the Earth whispering, “You are going to serve me eventually. Ashes, burial, whatever. It is all dirt. It is all me. Build what you want. Go where you want. It’s all coming back to me one way or another. Vomit, shit, piss, death. Give it to me. And I will turn it into life.” Fuck.
It keeps coming back: Earth as God. We have no choice but to submit. This is Earth domination. My ideas about power, control, and authority go out the window. I submit. I ride the wave of the planet. I think, “Take me wherever the fuck you want to make me.” And it is liberating.
In a way, knowing you’re a slave is true freedom. And we are all slaves to the planet.
I think of Bob Dylan singing, “You’re gonna have to serve somebody.”
You may be an ambassador to England or France
You may like to gamble, you might like to dance
You may be the heavyweight champion of the world
You may be a socialite with a long string of pearls.
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You’re gonna have to serve somebody,
It may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody
-Bob Dylan, “Gotta Serve Somebody”
I remember seeing a video of him singing it at the Grammys in a Tuxedo to a roomful of music business executives. You GOTTA SERVE SOMEBODY.
If we all took this drug, everything would be ok. Later, I learn that our brains create DMT, the active ingredient in Ayahuasca. When we die, our brains are actually flooded with DMT. So eventually, we will all take it. When we die, everything will be ok.
And think how crazy it is that we have made something that exists in our own brain illegal. We made ourselves illegal. Your brain is a felony! We are a bunch of lunatics.
About an hour into the journey, I feel a chill. So I grab my sweater. I pick it up and stare at it. I can do this. But I can’t. I have no idea how to put it on. I can’t figure out how clothes work!? Alright. I put it down and cover myself in a blanket instead.
And then the Shaman asks us to come back if we want some more. (There’s a round one and a round two — if you want it.) And I actually consider it. Do I want more? And then I remember: I do not understand how clothes work. So no, I do not need more.
I wonder how often this applies in my life. How I just robotically demand more because, well, more is more. But so often, I’ve had enough. I need to learn to say, “Enough.”
The thing I write on the last page of my notebook: Stop asking for more.
The war room
I write in my notebook, “Get the fuck over it, white boy. You are so fucking lucky. You are a white man in America. Shut up. Don’t complain about the scuff on your winning lottery ticket. People are FIGHTING WARS. We are SO lucky.” I am not sure if I write that to myself or someone else.
Things are taking a turn. A blizzard is coming outside. Inside too.
The room is split into sides — about 10 people on each side. Our side seems peaceful and mellow. Positive energy.
The other side is going through a storm. Cacophonous vomiting. Grunts. Men being carried to the toilet, barely able to stand. People groaning. It looks like a war zone over there. Is this random? Were the people on that side sitting together for some unconscious reason? Is one person’s trauma spreading to the others, like a cold front moving across a continent?
I see one girl on that side sitting up straight and proud. I feel she is a warrior. It is easy for me to be upright. I am on the easy side. She is doing it in the middle of a blitzkrieg.
There is real pain across from me. I observe and empathize. But I do not pity. Their pain is healthy. They are evacuating demons. They are coughing up the various cancers inside of them. Well done!
And I appreciate my own relative calm. That my demons are either being held at bay or just not that fierce. Growing up, I never had a Rottweiler. I had a Chow Chow who liked to shit in the neighbor’s garden. His name was Little Bear and he had a purple tongue.
These people, whom I assume are working through past traumas, make me appreciate the relatively fortunate existence I’ve had. Part of me is upset they’re “harshing my mellow” or whatever. But then I figure it’s all part of the plan. They’re providing me a lesson in tolerance and understanding. I need to remember: We are all going through something.
I wonder why I am having a relatively blissful trip. I think about the work I’ve been doing. The self-examination that comes through therapy, meditating, creating, and performing. I have miles to go, but I think the effort is generating some decent results at least. Maybe my trip is going well because I take out the garbage every week while others just let it pile up in the corner. Ignoring the garbage is not dealing with it. And eventually the garbage needs to be dealt with.
One girl on the other side becomes the center of attention. She is crying out in fear, trembling. She is sick. She is saying “no” and “Oh my God.” She is twisting. She stands up and stomps around. “Oh my God, was I raped?” she asks to no one. “I think I was raped.” She crumbles to the ground again and moans.
We are not supposed to talk to each other. Yet one of the girls on our side — she wears a long flowing gown — gets up and goes to the other girl’s side. She kneels beside the troubled girl and begins to whisper in her ear. I don’t know what she says but I know what she means.
And the troubled girl cries and leans into her and they embrace. And Gown rocks Afraid back and forth. And it seems like a mother caring for a scared child. And in this pain and trauma, beauty emerges. The caretaker. The nurturer. The darkness wrapped in hope and healing. This woman caring for her wounded comrade, as the earth embraces all of us. I watch from across the room. It is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen.
Eventually, a guide comes over and helps the troubled girl to the bathroom. Her volume is disturbing the others. It is better for her to heal her wounds in private.
Later, I ask the Shaman what he tells people going through something like that. I figure there is some version of “Shhh” or “It’s alright” or “Be calm, nothing will hurt you here.” But he says he just lets them go through it. The plant is not for words. He says, “I am not a psychotherapist. I am here to bring you the plant.” It is up to us to save ourselves.
The Shaman’s assistants pace the room like nurses, Florence-Nightingale-style. I think of those old movies and pictures I’ve seen with lines of beds filled with wounded soldiers. We are all wounded soldiers.
I keep thinking about trauma and time and stories. Bad things happen. But if they happened in the past, they are not happening now. I write this down:
What happened to you doesn’t matter. It’s just another story you tell yourself. Now is now. Learn to tell a different story. Move on and don’t be imprisoned by your past.
I ask the Shaman about this later. He replies, “The past is for learning, not living in. You drive a car by looking ahead, not looking behind you. Otherwise, you will crash.”
The power of the pack
I feel like we are supposed to go through this together. I think the group needs each other. Ceremonies need a circle. Their joy/pain is our joy/pain because we are all connected.
I am reminded of the Dog Whisperer talking about the power of the pack. How we all teach and learn from each other all the time. And how a stable pack can influence an unstable dog into behaving.
I want to reach out to the other side of the room that is filled with woe. I want to heal them and listen and make fun of them and tell them to write a new story. I scribble down notes to them:
We are all making it up as we go along. ALL.
We all want our daddy who ignored us.
You are an EXPERT and you don’t even realize it. All of us. EXPERTS on something.
Breathe in, breathe out.
You are doing a good job. Your reward will come from yourself, not others.
We are all going through something. We are all crazy and damaged in our own way. But these are only stories and it us up to each one of us to tell a new story if we don’t like the old one. Change your name. Move. Dance. Do the work. DO THE FUCKING WORK. Also, lighten up.
WE ARE ALL SOLDIERS. FIGHT ON. LIFE!
Let it go
Most of us vomit at some point. But the vomit seems to have a purpose. It feels tied to thoughts and emotions. Your body is physically purging things and so is your soul.
Whatever it is, vomit it up. It didn’t belong there forever. For there to be light, we must allow the darkness to come out.
You don’t have to hold onto it. LET IT GO.
I am imagining something I want. Suddenly, I realize it is just a dream. I am mistaking a fantasy for reality. And I vomit.
I remember certain lovers. Reading Carlos Castaneda in a hidden cove in Croatia as she bathed in the ocean. We were alone. No one could see. My god, we touched the sun! And then I remember how the next week she asked me why I never told her I loved her. How can I touch the sun with someone and not tell them I love them? That is not manliness, that is cowardice. Why do I only realize these things in retrospect? I try too hard to rein in my love. Have I grown since then? I need to show my joy more. I shouldn’t hide it. It’s there. The Russian in me fights it.
I think of other lovers too. They think they love me but I know a secret: They love my Mom and what she taught me. Maybe that’s me selling myself short. Maybe it’s true.
I don’t want to tell you about the rest of this part. I want to have secrets. Stamens and pistils, baby. Stamens and pistils.
You fight with stories
I’m writing a good story about you. You should be in it.
I think again about how a short bald Jew at a keyboard invented Don Draper. And how much we love Omar on The Wire. Such a badass. That whistling thing he does. He is so gangsta. Oh, and Omar was also the creation of a fat, bald, middle aged Jew. Did all that persecution force us to become storytellers? Or did all that storytelling lead to us being persecuted?
I think that Osama Bin Laden knew how to write a good story. How he used American and United planes for the symbolism. How he got us to do exactly what he wanted us to do by telling a good martyr story.
That’s how you fight back, with stories. Bombs disappear. Stories last forever. I worry that America is losing its story. The story that made us great was the opposite of torturing prisoners, spying on our own citizens, drone attacks, and preemptive wars. We used to have a story of light, now we spread a dark story.
I keep pulling out my notebook. I love writing. My little notebooks and my jotting down of ideas. It’s been a constant in my life.
Another memory: Me and my Dad at his computer as he taught me how to write. Going through school essays line by line with me. He was a good writer and he taught me how to do what he knew how to do. He cared.
I realize that my journey tonight is all about writing things down. I am a writer.
I think about laughter too. How it’s important. Laughter means it is alright. Laughter means you’re not scared.
Lessons. Stories. PARENTS. Teach. Carry on. LAUGH. Stories.
We talk about storytelling as if it’s out there. It’s in here. We are the story.
Fucking an octopus
I’m sailing on a hazy sea. I keep thinking: This plant is so amazing. I write this:
Jesu Fucking Christ
Jesu Fucking Christ
Later I write this:
This drug is like fucking an octopus. And the octopus is your mom.
Now THAT is a cosmic “Yo Mamma” joke.
You’ve just told me some high spots in your memories. Want to hear mine? They’re all connected with the sea.
Here’s one. When I was on the Squarehead square rigger, bound for Buenos Aires. Full moon in the trades. The old hooker driving 14 knots. I lay on the bowsprit, facing astern, with the water foaming into spume under me. Every mast with sail white in the moonlight — towering high above me. I became drunk with the beauty and singing rhythm of it — and for a second I lost myself, actually lost my life. I was set free! I dissolved into the sea, became white sails and flying spray — became beauty and rhythm, became moonlight and the ship and the high dim-starred sky. I belonged, without past or future, within peace and unity and a wild joy, within something greater than my own life, or the life of man, to Life itself! To God if you want to put it that way.
Then another time, on the American line, when I was lookout in the crow’s nest on the dawn watch. A calm sea that time. Only a lazy ground swell and a slow drousy roll of the ship. The passengers asleep and none of the crew in sight. No sound of man. Black smoke pouring from the funnels behind and beneath me. Dreaming, not keeping lookout, feeling alone, and above, and apart, watching the dawn creep like a painted dream over the sky and sea which slept together.
Then the moment of ecstatic freedom came. The peace, the end of the quest, the last harbor, the joy of belonging to a fulfillment beyond men’s lousy, greedy fears and hopes and dreams! And several other times in my life, when I was swimming far out, or lying alone on the beach, I have had the same experience. Became the sun, the hot sand, green seaweed anchored to a rock, swaying in the tide. Like a saint’s vision of beatitude. Like the veil of things as they seem drawn back by an unseen hand. For a second you see — and seeing the secret, are the secret. For a second there is meaning! Then the hand lets the veil fall and you are alone, lost in the fog again, stumbling on toward no where, for no good reason!
It was a great mistake, my being born a man. I would have been much more successful as a seagull or fish. As it is, I will always be a stranger who never feels at home, who does not want and is not really wanted, who can never belong, who must always be a little in love with death.
-Edmund in the play “Long Day’s Journey into Night” by Eugene O’Neill
“The jungle is not to be scared of. It is for respect.”
I think back to the Shaman’s origin story. Is it 100% true? Embellished at all? Who cares? It’s a great story. Enjoy! Make your own. They are all just stories. Perhaps the lesson of the Shaman’s story is: Write a good story and tell it to the world.
Everyone wants to be Cary Grant. Even I want to be Cary Grant. I pretended to be somebody I wanted to be until finally I became that person. Or he became me.
I’m so glad the Shaman told me to come back the second night. I need to tell people too. Only a few of us returned from the first night. Maybe the others had to watch the Super Bowl. Because, y’know, football.
I imagine the Shaman to be saying, “Good children, I am just here to serve the plant and guard you.” The songs he sings are beautiful. He will not let people record them though. No devices. This is not meant to be captured like that. Plus, the sounds of vomit kinda ruin a good vocal track.
The percussion instrument he plays sounds like a maraca crossed with a rattlesnake. It is used to turn the energy in the room. It is made of leaves that come from the jungle. He picks them and dries them out and ties them together and puts a strap on them. I like the idea of capturing your own percussion instrument.
At one point, the song he’s singing comes to a close. It is a gentle one. He’s sitting down. The last note rings out gently, a haunting lullaby. Soothing, calming. And as it thins out to silence, there is a beat. Then: a riotous vomiting sound blares from the bathroom. I mean LOUD. And the room, silent for hours, erupts in laughter. And I realize I just witnessed a roomful of people laugh at the vomiting noise made by a woman who just realized she had been raped. Talk about “you had to be there.” Timing is everything.
Later, the Shaman walks the room and performs some sort of smoke ritual on each person. He blows three puffs on your head. Three down your back. And then you put your hands up in a receiving position and he blows three puffs in your hands and then closes them. Receive. Everyone gets a turn. As he approaches me, he sees the bucket in front of me filled with vomit. His eyes twinkle and he says, “It’s not a Super Bowl, it’s a Super Bucket.” I couldn’t stop laughing.
As sobriety begins to return, I worry I will not hold onto this feeling. That it will slip away. I wonder how to remind myself. I hope all this writing helps.
And I think of the Zen saying an Ayahuasca comrade mentioned: “Before Enlightenment: Chop wood, carry water. After Enlightenment: Chop wood, carry water.”
After we come down, the Shaman tells a few of us about gathering the plant. How you need two men out there in the jungle to cut down the plant. One must smoke to keep the snakes away. The girl beside me is incredulous. “Real snakes?” she asks. Yes, it is the jungle. As the Shaman says, “Real jungle, not Disney jungle.”
The family vine
I sense we are all babies waiting for Mommy and Daddy. Some in the room seem to wrestle with their childhoods. And it makes me think of my parents. I have peace with them. Sure, they fucked me up some – but that’s what all parents do to their kids. I love them. I had a good childhood. I am lucky.
I think about my Mom who overcame her own problems and trauma.
I think about her obsession with the book, “Women Who Run with the Wolves.” I think about all the drugs she took and the art she made and the people she hung out with. My Mom fucking knew. She knew. It took me so long to listen. But sometimes songs that grow on you are the ones you sing the longest.
I think about children. How they are closer to hallucinating in a way. They don’t carry worry. They get tired of eating something and they just put it down and leave it there and walk away. Adults forget how to do that. I think about being a parent. I think about my sister and what a good job she is doing raising her son.
I think about my Dad and his death. I think about how this trip has involved me being obsessed with Jews who write stories. And I realize my Dad is the Jew who wrote my story, who wrote me. And that I am a Jew who writes stories.
I spent a week with my Dad right before his death. He died the day after I left. Maybe he waited until I was gone so I didn’t have to be there for it. He always hated to be a burden.
I want to give gratitude. To Earth, parents, lovers, friends, and anyone who listens. I am fortunate. Thank you.
Should you try this sometime? I don’t know. I heard the Super Bowl was pretty good too.