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Now, all but one candle is extinguished. Don Rober blesses the Ayahuasca with mapacho smoke and whistles an icaro song into the bottle – singing to the Spirit of the plant.

Then, the moment came and we were called up one by one to take the Ayahuasca drink. I went second. I went to the mesa and kneeled before the two shamans. Howard poured the tea into a small earthen cup and don Rober handed it forward to me. I silently expressed my Intentions to the Spirit of the plant, then held my nose and took the drink in one draught.

Ayahuasca has a well-deserved reputation for tasting terrible. Up until now, I had been very focused on what this would be like and how nasty the drink would be and whether I would gag or throw it up immediately. In fact, for me, it was surprisingly not-so-bad and I had no trouble drinking and holding it. It has a definitely unpleasant earthy, pungent, oily taste, but it was not viscous, and truly had the consistency of tea or water. The taste is quite difficult to describe.

I thought long about my Intention for the ceremony. There was so much I wanted to know, to experience, to see and learn. It was hard to choose and hard to focus down on one thing. Finally, I decided on this combination:

“Let me SEE; Let me LEARN WHAT I NEED TO LEARN; and please HEAL me.”


Once everyone has partaken of the brew, including the shamans, the final candle is extinguished and the rest of the ceremony is conducted in total darkness. Only the occasional flare of a match for lighting a mapacho breaks this darkness, but after a while, my eyes adjust and I can make out the shadowy outlines of the people in the room. Don Rober ceases his icaros now as we wait for the onset of the Ayahuasca effects over the next 20 – 30 minutes. Later, he will begin the singing icaros that guide us throughout the night. For now, however, only the susurrus of the jungle night sounds, with the occasional eerie barking of the bamboo rats nearby and far away, surround us as we wait silently in the darkness.”



Darest thou now, O soul,
Walk out with me toward the Unknown Region,
Where neither ground is for the feet nor any path to follow?

No map there, nor guide,
Nor voice sounding, nor touch of human hand,
Nor face with blooming flesh, nor lips, nor eyes, are in that land.

I know it not O soul;
Nor dost thou–all is a blank before us;
All waits, undream'd of, in that region–that inaccessible land.

– Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass – 1871-72

It is something of a known phenomenon that a person’s very first Ayahuasca experience is often an especially difficult and trying one. It is as if the medicine has a lot of work to do with us, “rewiring” the mind and spirit to be able to tune in to this new frequency. It must deal with our physical form and all the toxins of it and illnesses of it. It must also deal with our psychological form and all the mental toxins and dis-eases of it. None of this is done with gentleness or restraint. That is not Her way.

My first visions are what precipitated the events I described in the beginning – visions so strong and disturbing that I involuntarily leapt out of my seat, and upon regaining my self-awareness, found myself trembling and sweating on the floor of the ceremonial maloca. The first thing I noticed was my body swaying back and forth in a distinct rhythm. This was not physical – I was sitting quite still in my small chair. The feeling of swaying, however, was very strong. It dawned on me that this was the same swaying as I felt while lying in a hammock earlier in the day. Was Ayahuasca rocking me to comfort me, or was she simply about to rock my world? The feeling lasted only a minute or so.

A buzzing began in my fingertips and toes. This is a common effect of Ayahuasca and it did not alarm me. I observed it as it increased and traveled up my limbs. Now, my entire legs and arms were buzzing strongly, like they were connected to a high voltage electric line, but no pain – only strong buzzing vibration. We were less than five minutes into the onset of the effects of the medicine. The buzzing increased in intensity and now my entire form was vibrating! The buzzing increased steadily – relentlessly more and more. I began to become alarmed at the intensity of it, but it increased even more.

Now, the vibration was all through my body and my head and the buzzing still increased. I suddenly realized that this would keep going until I fainted. It felt just like that moment before a faint, when you realize it is going to happen but you cannot prevent it. I remember actually thinking the words, “I’m going to faint!” The buzzing was reaching an immense crescendo and it was also very loud – a huge roar in my perceptual ears, drowning out any and all other sounds and thoughts. I am resigned to the faint that I know is coming right now.

Then it happens, but I do not faint. Instead, it is as if someone



It is not that often in Ayahuasca experiences that the drinker becomes totally disconnected from his or her self, totally unaware of their surroundings or of the fact that they are in an Ayahuasca session. One is almost always aware of it – always some “observer” part of us watching. For me, however, at this instant, it was truly as if some outside agency decided to change my channel and put me directly and totally into a living dream. For me, at this instant, the Ayahuasca session disappeared entirely. No thought of it or echo of it existed in my mind in this new place.

No longer was I the adult man who had just been sitting in a room full of people in the Amazon darkness. Instead, I felt like I was floating freely in jet-black space and that I was just a little boy – my own child self from many years past. Just as I began to orient myself in this new reality, very precise images began to appear, arranged like an endless stack of playing cards and approaching me rapidly. They began to fly by me on my left side: hundreds and hundreds of cards. They were a highly confusing collage of images, textures, surfaces, people, places, geometries – all streaming by far too fast for me to comprehend any one of them. It seemed rich in content, a library of information, but like any library, impossible to ingest all in one moment – one single moment’s reading. I felt stunned, and a childlike frustration with such attractive and meaningful riches just out of my reach and comprehension, began to grow and to turn into fear.

I was beginning to panic. The imagery was flying by me so rapidly now that it was like putting my face into a waterfall and looking up at all the millions of droplets cascading into my face and eyes. Here, something began to change in my perceptions, as the flooding images became less of the focus of my attention than the raw fear that had been growing stronger with each passing second – a rising tide of panic. This seemed like an expression of primal fear, not caused by something in particular, but rather as if I were experiencing Fear Itself – pure, unrefined, unholy, uncalled-for, and overwhelming.

I was fully panicked – my heart and breathing racing hard. I was struggling very hard now, trying to process the images as they cascaded blindingly past me. It was difficult to remember anything at all in this onslaught. I was lost in a nightmare of truly alien forms – a monstrous and overwhelming rush that came to a sudden end with one last image.

It flew up and became vivid as all the other cascade of images flew on and faded away. This was a picture of a wooden door with a red knob. As the image settled, it became real. I was here, floating in space before this door. It was dark here on this side of the door. There was light beyond it. It seemed that this was the door to my childhood bedroom and I felt a panicked need to open it and escape from this darkness into the light beyond, where safety and life still existed. I knew I only had a bare moment to accomplish this before it would be too late. In this moment, in this place, the fear was sharp and real – primitive “fight or flight” instincts kicked in as the panic increased to a truly howling crescendo of emotion. I HAD TO reach that door and open it! If I failed, I would be swallowed up by this black void. I would be lost in the alien cascade and I would never come back. My very life and existence depended on this one task: open the door!

I felt my body spasm in reaction. I was fighting now, as hard as I could, but there was no purchase – I was floating in space. I kicked and swam and reached out for the door. I came a little closer, and I lunged out with my right hand, trying for the door knob. The door receded away from me, just out of reach. I lunged out again, desperate to grab the knob, and again, it receded away from me. I had reached the end of the time available for my task.

Suddenly, I heard myself screaming at the top of my voice, “I CAN’T REACH IT!



Then, everything stopped.


Someone changed the channel again.



continued . . .



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