A guest post by Samer Mouawad
I first came to Iquitos in May of 2009, armed with almost nothing in the way of knowledge of the city itself apart from the bare minimum of what I could glean from guidebooks and the Internet.
There were many reasons that led me to here, but most of all I came here hoping to find answers to questions that had dogged me all my life, answers that made sense to me.
You will be reading my experience with Ayahuasca. I would like to emphasize that this is only my experience and that this is only my story. In other words, should you decide to partake in an Ayahuasca ceremony, whatever the context may be, you will not have the same experience; you’ll have yours and yours alone.
The ceremony began at 8pm. Everybody present who wanted to drink the Ayahuasca approached the Shamans to be served up their portions. When my turn came, I approached the Shaman and sat down in front of him next to a carpet that was covered with crystals. Later I was told that this carpet and the crystals on it were an essential part of the ceremony, traditionally known as “La Meza”. He poured me a cup of Ayahuasca, then whistled in it and handed it to me saying “Welcome to your next evolution”.
The ceremonial house was a large circular room equipped with toilets and showers in the back. There was a mat for new guests to sit on, chairs for returning guests, a bucket for vomit and a metal cup with water for rinsing out the mouth as well as an ample supply of tissues.
After serving everyone, the shamans served themselves and the apprentices turned off the kerosene lamps. The room was plunged into total darkness and you could hear the sound of the jungle. Then the shamans started to sing the songs traditionally known as “Icaros” while they shook the leaf rattles that are known as “Shakapas”.
I could sense a certain level of tension rising in the room. I kept looking around me to see if I could see anything (or even feel anything) from the Ayahuasca I had drunk, but I couldn’t. I kept checking my head lamp, telling myself it could very well be my only way out… Then my attention turned to the Shamans, who were all still singing, and I started to think “This is the stupidest thing I have ever done, coming all the way out here to the middle of the Amazon basin, paying all that money, losing my vacation time… just for the sake of drinking the nastiest thing I have ever tasted and wanting to puke! GREAT!”
So there I was, sitting on the mat, trying to understand what the Shaman was saying and enjoying the moonlight that was starting to make things in the room a bit more visible. 15 or 20 minutes passed in this way and still I couldn’t feel a thing.
Then I started to see something that looked like a net; at first I thought it was just my imagination or a trick of the light, but when I closed and reopened my eyes I was still able to see it. Then suddenly the net became yellow and I started to see the faces of what appeared to be Chinese dragons coming out of the net with wild tongues stretching out all over the place. Something was moving in my body, I could sense it taking over me, I tried to resist, but I didn’t know how or even what to resist, so clueless I was to what was going on. Then I started to hear laughter and the sounds of applause, and it felt like my brain was making fun of me. I was hearing voices all over the room and could distinctly hear someone telling me: “Nice try, but you’ll never get out of here! Haha! Haha!”. So many thoughts were all just whirling around my head…
Never having taken any drugs before I lacked any sort of a frame of reference with which to compare the sensations I was grappling with. It really felt like I was going to die, and only then did I remember the Shaman telling us “Nobody is allowed to die in here!” which eased the pain for about 5 seconds… Basically I was facing all these thoughts of doubt, fear and confusion with regard to Ayahuasca itself. It was building and building in me until suddenly I spewed forth this gigantic stream of vomit which I could only describe as a purge. At last I could breathe again! I looked for a pillow on the mat, covered myself with a blanket and just hugged the bucket because I realized that you cannot hold a purge. I was utterly exhausted and I just wanted it all to be over. But the ceremony was only just getting started!
The sun woke me up the next day. I opened my eyes and I cried. After all the experiences of the previous night I was absolutely terrified of Ayahuasca; the ceremony had been so hard that I was just terrified to go through it all over again. Why on earth would I put myself through that again? The very next night however, I found myself drinking it once more.
Everything was to become much clearer during the course of the second ceremony. I saw all the geometrical patterns that people talk about, and I basically had the classic Ayahuasca experience. This was when my journey with Ayahuasca really started in earnest.
Ayahuasca is Ayahuasca, everything else is the story you assign to it. The world of the jungle and the psyche assigned to it is dualistic by definition. On the one hand there are the warrior Shamans and healers, and on the other hand there are the dark Shamans known as “Brujos”. There are spells and magic; basically there is everything that people regard as belonging to the realm of the supernatural! My path, which basically mirrors my intention, is a pure path of healing and learning. This is the sphere of the people of the so-called “Blue Morpho”.
After three years of being involved in the traditional shamanic practices of the Amazonian basin, I often ask myself, has it all been worth it? Have I found what I was looking for? To answer that would be very limiting. Instead I will tell you how my perception is right now.
The dualistic perception of what is called life starts with the ego, the “I”. Where the ego exists, struggle begins. My definition of struggle simply means that we have to fight very hard to gain what we are looking for. Struggle means competition, struggle means we are aiming for a goal and working so hard to achieve it that we are missing out on… life itself! Struggle means that we are stuck in our psyche, so we jump from place to place to find comfort. If we can’t get rich we become spiritual, sometimes to be spiritual means to partake in an Ayahuasca ceremony, and that we do that only to find comfort, believing that this comfort will ease our fears and give us a sense of security.
This was exactly the narrative of my journey with Ayahuasca. It took me all the way in my dualistic expression. I saw my fears, my demons, my angels. I wept in ceremonies, I laughed, I shouted, I purged, I fought the spirits that were trying so hard to grab a hold of me. Many times I felt I was going crazy. I cried out for help more times than I can remember. I purged the story of “me” and “my life” I even purged the story of Ayahuasca itself. I came out from the other side unscathed.
Eventually it all became very clear to me. I saw the world from a different perspective. My perception changed. It started in September of 2010, after a “Sanango dieta”, I felt it was time to quit smoking, after 12 years of smoking two packets of Red Marlboro every day. I asked for help in this issue and my intention became very clear. When the ceremony started I was faced with the longest 15 minutes of my life, I had no awareness of my surroundings and I felt paralyzed; I must say it was one of those moments in Ayahuasca where you say, “I’m not going to do this ever again” – a thought that occurs frequently I must say! I had a massive purge and I regained awareness of my surroundings. After that I never smoked again, I simply understood it was never about cigarettes. During that ceremony I felt my heart expanding, I actually saw the whole universe as an expansion of my heart; I knew then when you go beyond the dualistic expression, beyond the psyche you will only be left with love. Call it God, chi, love, truth whatever. I was looking at the whole entire dualistic expression; I was a focal point LOOKING at this “life” that is made of love.
That night was a turning point in my life. After it I was able to see “me” and others. I could see things clearly without judging, and I gained many important insights into the concept of empathy.
The truth is, my heart had been opened, and I started to perceive the world from a point of view of love. In this love there still remained the perception of self, of ego and everything that follows from it, but instead of resulting in struggle, it resulted in understanding, an insight into the joy of life, and a smile.
I would like to thank Bill, the owner of Dawn on the Amazon, for giving me the chance to tell my story. He’s a lovely honest man, one of the few in Iquitos. I would also like to thank Blue Morpho for always being there and for holding a safe space of love, for people to learn in and to be healed, one of the few in the region. I would also like to thank everyone for being in the story of my journey that I call “my life”.
Ayahuasca Experience Iquitos
A guest post by Samer Mouawad