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Who am I? Where am I? What is happening to me? I am on my hands and knees. Sweat is pouring off my body, rolling off my eyes and nose. I’m trembling very hard. I’m panic-breathing like I’ve been running away from something for miles and miles.

I open my eyes and turn my head up to the right. Just barely visible are ghostly forms of shadow people, all in a row. They are frightening and I am completely at a loss.

Then, it dawns on me. “Wait a minute . . ., this is still part of an Ayahuasca session. Those are the other people from the group! I’ve had some strange episode and now I’m here on the floor. On the floor??” I reached out with my hand and felt the floor boards of the maloca. I had apparently launched myself out of my chair and landed here.

As my perceptions returned, time itself seemed to regain its normal pace. All this seemed to take a long time, then only a second or two. Now, just at this moment of realization, don Rober reached me and I heard his voice and felt his shacapa patting my head. Howard’s wife, Reyna, who assists the ceremonies, was there, too, with a comforting hand. Don Rober sang healing icaros over me and performed several “extractions” called chupando, where he placed his lips on my skin at my neck and forehead and sucked out the negative energies or spirits and then vigorously blew it all away into the dark distance where it could do no more harm.

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“Thus, the key to don Roberto’s healing is his chupando, sucking, like other shamans, throughout North and South America, who suck out sickness from the suffering body. Healing by sucking is widely distributed among the indigenous people of the Amazon.”
– Stephan V. Beyer, Singing To The Plants (Albuquerque, NM: University of New Mexico Press, 2009) 104..

This healing with music, touch, and ritual effort, quickly grounded me and I began to concentrate on slowing my breath and calming my panicked psyche. I took deep, slow breaths and the trembling began to subside. After a minute, still bent over on the floor, I heard Reyna whisper if I was all right to move, and I felt helping hands guide me up and back through the lightless room to my seat.

Fully myself now, I settled into a strange new space of buzzing limbs and physical discomfort. For the rest of the session, I did not lose my sense of self and I was able to observe my own reactions. These were mostly to the physical discomfort. I was still drenched in a full sweat that lasted the rest of the night. The buzzing in my extremities, limbs, and face, was still very strong and uncomfortable, especially in my legs.

Ayahuasca sessions typically last four to six hours. At this point in this ceremony, after all that had happened to me, we were still only about 10 or 15 minutes into it. Conventional time had ceased having meaning for me during this first harsh vision, but only a short period had actually passed. We had another five or so hours yet to go.

During this time, I felt like I was in “enduring mode” until the end and I saw only mild, unimpressive and fragmentary visions throughout the session. They were either negative or mysterious and somewhat menacing. A very detailed black stone statue of the Egyptian god Anubis appeared and floated around in an arc before disappearing. A huge black spider with spindly curving legs scuttled away. By midnight, about three hours in, the effects had diminished to perhaps twenty percent.

Many of the participants purged, sometimes quite strongly, throughout the night. Don Rober and Howard purged also. Some people do not purge during one session or another. As it happened, I did not purge this entire session. Body temperature can vary unpredictably with Ayahuasca, and I began to grow cool, even though I was still very sweaty, so I pulled up my blanket to wrap up in it a bit.

For the last hour or so, certain people would be called to a small cushion in the center of the room for don Rober to perform specific healings on them with icaros, mapacho smoke, and chupando sucking and blowing. Afterwards, he made the rounds of everyone in their chairs, performing a final shacapa and icaro healing on each of us in turn. This was a very welcome and settling thing to me.

At 2:30 am, Howard broke the darkness by lighting a candle and broke the silence of hours by stating, “Well, friends, we have come to our intermission.” Now, the vision ceremony was over. By “intermission,” he meant that the entire ceremony is not officially over until all of us participate in a flower bath in the morning, which I will describe below.

We all were free then to make our way back to our rooms and sleep if we can. I was feeling much better now, but dizzy and very tired from the incessant sweating and high voltage buzzing. I made it up the long wooden walk, lit by dim oil lamps, and fell into a deep sleep.

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My initiation into Ayahuasca’s world of visions and spirit was harsh – again, not at all unusual for a first time experience. I experienced real, raw fear. I truly feared for my life during the vision’s crucible. It was an exposure to extreme emotion that I needed to fully face to give myself a different and useful perspective on what it means to be alive. Going forward, I would move on into different realms and, in my final ceremony, be a part of something truly wonderful. It would be a true expression of that Spirit of Life that would culminate in a life-altering gift from the heart.

 

FLOWER BATHS AND THE SECOND AYAHUASCA CEREMONY
Expressions of Normalcy in an Abnormal Realm

The rituals and ceremonies I am describing are those of mestizo shamanism, a mixture of tribal Indian and Hispanic traditions. One of the Hispanic healing influences is that of a “limpia” or cleansing bath. In the Upper Amazon, the flower bath is an important part of the Ayahuasca ritual. This is a literal bathing in water that has been infused with fragrant and beautiful blossoms. These also serve a spiritual purpose to cleanse and ward off negative spirits or energies. This limpia is administered by the shaman (Don Rober, in my case) who also ritualizes the procedure with shacapa and sung or whistled icaros and arcanas of protection.

Howard informed me that the flower bath serves to “close up” the spiritual space around the participants to keep us from being too open and vulnerable to negative magic. Thus, it is the crucial conclusion of the previous night’s ceremony.

Our flower baths were conducted first thing in the morning, with each of us receiving the bath individually at the hand of don Rober.

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from my trip journal:

"Tuesday – First Flower Bath.

I’m feeling very good this bright morning after a short but good night’s sleep. I am still bothered by the strong episode I had last night. In all my years of reading about Ayahuasca experiences, I’d never heard of the kind of thing I had just experienced.

Maybe this reaction was something specific to me? If so, it might happen again! I guess I looked worried as don Rober approached me and asked if I was “bien?” I assured him I was fine and he smiled and patted my back. Other participants also came up to me and gave me their love and encouragement. This is such an affirming and responsive group experience. It is reassuring and powerful.

Later, I talked with Howard about my episode and he assured me that “Ayahuasca can do that!” The type of episode I experienced, where one loses awareness of one’s self as participating in a ceremony, is rare. It is, he promised, something that can turn out to have much deeper meaning later on. He said I was unlikely to encounter that kind of experience or vision again, but if I should do so, “You’ll know how to handle it.”

As we finished our breakfasts, individuals took turns going to a tiny side platform, open to the jungle, to have don Rober administer their flower bath. Under a small thatched roof, a hard chair and a large galvanized bucket of water are the only things here. In the water, lovely purple and blue blooms float about – their fragrance strong and sweet. I took my turn and sat down in the chair.

Don Rober began the bath by dipping the water out and pouring it right over me, covering me head to toe with several waterfalls. This may be the hot jungle, but that river water is very cold – so cold and unexpected that I could not help but squeal loudly as I took huge breaths, my heart racing. Don Rober laughed and began his ministrations with smoking a mapacho of rustic tobacco and blowing the smoke into the crown of my head. He began to whistle his icaro and pat me with the shacapa.

After recovering from the initial cold water shock, the overall effect of the flower bath is one of comfort. I always left the flower baths with a feeling of being grateful and of being at peace.

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Don Rober points out a young Ayahuasca vine growing wild on a tree near another shaman's thatch hut.

 

continued . . .

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