I was alone on the mountainside by myself. So there I sat.
I spent the next few hours moving slowly. I was feeling a bit disoriented from the lodge and carrying my things along winding paths on the side of the mountain, as was my supporter. I could hear in the distance others that were preparing their spots. We were far enough from others that we couldn’t see them but could hear sounds carried by the wind. I setup the garland of prayer ties all around my space. I could hear the river in the distance, coming from the west. I setup the five prayer flags, one in each direction and the fifth in the center near my sleeping area representing the medicine. I brought a candle, some small stones and a small Shipibo cloth received from a medicine sister. I set up an altar nearby so to have a place of meditation and contemplation. And I knew I would have plenty of time to contemplate all of these things. Though I couldn’t anticipate what the next 4 days would bring.
After perhaps a couple of hours everything was setup. As suggested by my teacher I laid back and just relaxed into the space. I’ve learned that it is important to try and stay awake until sunset after a ceremony, which I tried to do. In this way one can try to keep as normal a sleep schedule as possible. As the sun began to set amongst the reds, oranges, and purples, I slowly drifted off into a light sleep, though it was more of a trance than sleep to be honest. The weather was perfect; warm but not hot. The clouds moved by slowly as I stared up into the sky watching the last glimmerings of sunlight vanish over the horizon. I drifted off into a dreamless sleep.
I would awake from time to time as I was just becoming accustomed to lying on the dirt ground. After some time the sun began to once again rise in the east, and I awoke as the temperature began to rise with the day. I sat up rested, yet physically exhausted. I laid out the four corn husks of tobacco in the shape of a mandala on the altar. I lit the first one and began to pray. In my mind I was once again going over all of the many prayers and intentions I had set making the prayer ties. 405 prayers, each one to all of the people that helped me get here today and all the intentions I set into motion partaking in such a ceremony. All of the intentions I had set whirled around my mind. With each puff from the tobacco I could feel the energy of the wild mapacho enter into my body. It is strong enough that one doesn’t necessarily need to inhale it to receive the physical effects. With each exhale of smoke I was sending out the intention into the world. Mapacho is very powerful in that with each puff I could feel my mouth water, tasting the pungent tobacco, quickly followed by a dryness. I knew this dryness would only increase with each day, so I savored each moment with the tobacco.
Once I finished the tobacco I just laid back and took the whole scene in. It was as if there was a deeper thing occurring that was just beyond comprehension. In my sensitive state it was apparent yet elusive. The very thought of being here, now, was enough to keep me distracted from these answers. And yet with all of the mystery of this ancient ritual, thinking and seeking that hidden meaning, I quickly found myself bored. After a few hours I was incredibly bored. My mind was wanting to move faster than the ritual allowed. The act of laying here was so grounding and yet somewhat aggravating. I could feel every little thing in my body. Each bump in the ground became apparent. After some time it was difficult to find comfort in this place. Impatience began to set in. I would get up and stand near each of the prayer flags. After a little while the mosquitos began to arrive and so I went once again back under the net onto my sleeping bag. The sun had reached a point directly above me. I was under the cover of the tall trees but could still see sunlight slipping between the leaves.
And so I laid there staring at the sky, at the trees, at the ground. I could hear the sound of flowing water coming from the river in the distance. It was hypnotizing and with each passing moment it felt like hours. Yet, at the same time it felt as if time had completely stopped. I closed my eyes and meditated. Every so often I would look up only to find that the sun had barely moved across the sky. It was still directly above me! I remembered back to my first ceremony with ayahuasca almost exactly 6 years prior. In this ceremony I had received a mantra that would come to me time and time again: infinite patience. This path is not something that can be expedited in any way. One must move at the speed of nature all around. And despite my attempts to distract myself from the moment at hand, thinking many different thoughts about every little thing, I was still incredibly bored. I was so bored that it began to distract me from any contemplation I was attempting.
After many hours of lying there, tossing and turning on the dirt ground, I could see that the sun was indeed moving across the sky. Time was still moving forward, albeit at a much slower rate than I was normally able to perceive. Once it became apparent that the sun was beginning to set, the bright yellow sunlight slowly turning a golden orange, I felt that I could start preparing for sleep that night. I would get up to use the bathroom just beyond the prayer ties. Not that I really had anything in me as is. It would still be sometime before the sun actually set and I would fall asleep. These evenings were even more so a challenge in that it appears we are so close to the falling night, yet it moved just as slowly and beautifully as the morning. Saturn was certainly having a good laugh at my expense this day.
Eventually the sun did indeed set. It had been a very long day, and I was physically exhausted. My energy levels were as low as they’ve ever been. I felt completely drained. It felt like I was expending all of my energy just trying to stay oriented on the task at hand. Sometime after sunset I climbed into the sleeping bag and tried to sleep. It was utterly dark in this place. The light from the candle made the shadows of the leaves dance slowly against the mountain walls. It was beautiful and hypnotizing. Night had finally arrived, yet I could not sleep for a couple of hours. I was too exhausted to be angry anymore. Surprisingly I was not very hungry, though thirst was certainly becoming apparent. After a bit longer of laying in the dark alongside the flickering candle flame, I drifted off into sleep.
I would go through phases in my life where I would dream vividly and then after any number of weeks or so I would apparently not dream anything. This is a common occurrence for me. I tossed and turned all night but that night I had a dream. The dream this night was something more, as I would soon find. I was at a friend’s house. We were in his kitchen, and food was being made. We were having a casual conversation, yet I was watching him prepare this big meal. I was certainly feeling hunger at this point. My friend looked over and asked “Hey, would you like to have something to eat?” I responded almost casually, “No, I can’t. I’m doing a vision quest.” “Oh,” he responded…
Instantly, I knew this couldn’t be happening. I was on the mountain for vision quest, not at my friend’s house standing in his kitchen watching him make food. I had become all so suddenly lucid and realized I was dreaming. I could feel the dirt ground I was laying on and the sleeping bag I was inside, all the while being aware of being at my friend’s home in the dream. I tried to explain that this wasn’t happening, that this was a dream. He wouldn’t, or couldn’t, understand what I was trying to say. Just as quickly my mind began to drift away from the lucid sensation of being aware of the dream state. In this gentle struggle I opened my eyes and was once again laying under my mosquito net. The sun had begun to rise. I had slept through the night.
I sat there contemplating the dream that had just occurred. I was overwhelmed with a deep feeling that perhaps I was still asleep. The wheels of deja vu began to turn. Emotions began to bubble to the surface. A realization was breaking in my mind: I have always been on this quest. I have always been on this mountain seeking. Like Plato’s allegory of the cave, I had been watching the fleeting phantoms bounce off the cave walls not realizing that the hidden sun behind was the true source of life for this seemingly apparent reality. Visions of my life and the events leading up to this moment became unreal, and it was as if I was staring at that hidden reality behind my existence. I have always been here, on the mountain, seeking a vision of truth for some hidden reality just beyond reach. I realized tears had begun to stream down my face, as I was not fully prepared to accept the message that had just been given to me. Head in my hands I began to cry. The walls of my reality began to crumble all around me and hidden emotions stuck deep within my heart were free and rising to awareness. How much pain had I been holding in my heart? How much anger had been guiding my behavior? How long have I been sleeping in a bed of fear, comfortable in my own uncertainty?
I cried for an hour until I could feel the weight of this dawning realization begin to float away. Suddenly my heart was light again. I was so incredibly exhausted. The second day had just began, and I was already an emotional mess. After another hour or two of contemplation I found the energy to set the next mapacho onto the altar. I just stared at it for awhile until finally finding the courage to light it. I knew that all I can do in this moment was continue my prayers, despite being utterly drained energetically. Immediately thirst began to set in.
The day crawled by so slowly. I sat in my emotions all day. Once again the sun would just hover above me for hours and hours seemingly unmoving. I would get up and stand by the entrance to my spot saying to myself I could go back if I want. Eventually I would get too tired to even stand and just go lay back down. Whatever blockages I held in my heart were removed and my emotions were just coming to the surface quickly. I could feel anger begin to rise in me as my mantra of infinite patience vanished. I was becoming incredibly angry that the sun was seemingly unmoving. Minutes felt like hours. I would try and nap here and there to pass the time but I could not fall asleep. I was both sensitive and distracted by my emotions. I began to remember the moment I decided to do vision quest, up to the moment the previous year the towers of my life began to crumble as transformation was occurring within me and around me. All of these events were connected. I could see it very clearly in this place.
I had become so thirsty. I was told the only water we were allowed to drink had to come from the sky. I began to beg for rain. Yet it was another beautiful day. The sky was clear and blue and beautiful. What a strange feeling it was begging for rain despite the perfect weather that surrounded me. Still, I was not very hungry. I was no longer going to the bathroom as I had nothing in me. I started to find myself having strange thoughts, desiring fruits and other things to quench my growing hunger and thirst.
By the afternoon, I was talking to the sun, begging for it to move faster in the sky. The anger and impatience was at its highest point this second day. I was seriously contemplating going back early. I was feeling aggravated, second guessing myself my decision to do this. As obvious as it was to do vision quest, I was suddenly questioning all of that. Is this the path for me? Am I deluding myself into thinking this would actually be a benefit? I was so bored I was angry.
These past 2 days were seriously a test of my ability to stay calm in such situations. I had fully entered fight or flight mode. Yet there was nothing to fight or flight from, save for my self. And still I had not received any “visions”, whatever that even means anymore. The day was long and the night was longer. I spent the majority of that night laying with my eyes closed. I was certainly not sleeping despite being incredibly exhausted. I had all but given up on having a “spiritual” experience. I didn’t even believe it was going to come anymore. I just lay there uncertain, but uncaring. Let it happen the way it’s going to happen.
On the third day I awoke in the early morning. The sun had just risen. Sitting up I felt a burst of energy. I opened my eyes, stretched, and stood up. I felt incredibly rested and energized. I stepped out from the mosquito net and just sat still feeling the sunlight come down on my skin. A sense of calm washed over me. The anger and uncertainty that I carried the previous 2 days had vanished. Somehow between last night and this morning, wherein I all but gave up on the endeavour, something changed.
I sat there quietly watching the trees slowly sway in the wind. Something had shifted for me in the night. I had surrendered to the flow of nature all around me. I was no longer struggling. I knew now that I had been wanting to move faster, but that was not the speed of nature. I wanted to speed up a sacred process that doesn’t go fast, but instead moves at its own pace. It was another beautiful day.
I went back to my altar and began smoking my third mapacho. It was very drying and made me realize how thirsty I had become, but it was alright. I was still somehow not very hungry. It seemed that despite my lack of hunger, my body was digesting all of these other things that it had stored in the form of emotions and thoughts. By processing these things in this way I was able to rid myself of programming that led to suffering and pain.
After I finished the mapacho, taking time to call in the 4 directions, I sat out in the sunlight on a natural ledge cut from the sloping hill. I sat feeling the sunlight pour down on me, warming me in this otherwise cool and shaded spot. I don’t know how long I sat still here, but it didn’t matter. I would sit and watch the patterns on the trees until I gently shifted my gaze to the lower growing plants on the forested floor. Watching I would see plants in stillness suddenly twitch and move becoming animated with life before resting once again in stillness. Oh how apparent it became to me that this place was alive. All of this green, all of these trees, and all of these bugs, living in a symbiotic relationship with one another. Here I sat, the one thing actually out of their comfort zone in this place.
I would occasionally see beautiful butterflies fluttering and blue and green shimmering hummingbirds fly by searching all of the flowers for sweet nectar. In this act of love making it became fully apparent that this mountain home, where at the top the sundance was being built, was indeed a living organism unto itself. Sitting still, the hummingbirds would float all around me before zipping off into the distance searching for more nectar to satiate its needs. The butterflies would flutter in silently. Sitting absolutely still they would land on my arms and legs. I had become as still as the trees. Yet, after a few minutes of this stillness I would break the butterflies concentration trying to keep the mosquitos from feasting on me.
After many hours of this stillness, sitting in the sunlight or laying under my mosquito net near my altar, I heard the sound of the drum in the distance. Looking up the path towards the sundance I see a cloud of billowing smoke coming at me. For a moment I wasn’t sure what was happening, as it all looked for very surreal. In the smoke I see 3 women in colorful gowns swinging a censor. The smoke reached me and I knew the scent immediately. It was copal. The women came up with copal and wild tobacco blowing. They smudged me off before continuing on down the path to the next quester. Following them came my teacher with his 2 helpers. In this tradition we are allowed to work with medicine on the third day of a vision quest. His medicine bag is opened and we can take whatever we need. I had known this moment would come and so had spent quite a bit of time thinking about what I would take. I knew it best to be present in the moment and listen to my body before taking anything.
I had chosen to drink Yage. I was told to drink it slowly. I was certainly in a sensitive state, despite waking up energized. It was the afternoon by the time I had begun to sip on the small glass of thick, dark liquid. Being as thirsty as I was the taste of the medicine really sat in the back of my throat. After some time I grew used to it. I was sipping it slowly over the course of a couple of hours. I began to feel the energy within me rise. The spirit was coming alive. A glow was enveloping the trees. I sat down under my mosquito net and began to meditate. Instantly music began to come to me. For the next 2 hours I sat there singing songs quietly to myself with a big grin on my face. I could feel music flowing instantly from inside and into my body and out into nature, though I was singing more or less in silence.
Whatever blockages had been removed the previous 2 days (angrily I might add) had allowed what was inside me to flow unimpeded. Like an orchestra of sound, guitars and singing voices came forth. Rhythm and movement began to sway my body. I began to sing and dance silently all under my mosquito net. Ecstatic energy began to flow through me. I was alive fully in this moment and everything was perfect.
In the distance I heard a deep rumbling come from the west. I opened my eyes and saw clouds moving overhead all so suddenly. Perhaps my water prayers were about to be answered. It started as a few drops of water, in time turning into a drizzle. Yet within the hour it was raining. As the minutes went by it began to rain harder and harder. Despite having a tarp hanging over my sleeping area, water began to get in. I began to shift my entire setup to keep it from getting wet. It quickly became apparent this wasn’t going to work. Wakinyan, those thunder beings from the west, had decided to make an appearance.
In preparation for just such an occasion, I went to my backpack and pulled out a big black garbage bag. I folded up my sleeping bag, packed up what few belongings I had with me, and placed it all in the garbage bag. I realized also that I did not have a change of clothes. I decided to take my clothes off and put them in the bag as well to keep dry. The wind was blowing, thunder was rumbling, and rain was coming down incredibly strong. Indeed, my prayer had been answered. I had received the sip of water that I so yearned.
So there I stood under a tarp on the side of a mountain, naked holding a candle and a half glass of Yage. It all seemed so ridiculous. How did this happen to me? How did I get here? What does this all mean? So many small things had led up to this very moment, nudging me along on this journey, and yet somehow I end up in South America, naked in a thunderstorm, drinking plant medicine. I began to laugh.
This rain went on for a few hours until finally it began to clear up. I could see in the distance the sun was beginning to set. Beyond the clouds once again the oranges and purples set against a fading blue sky could be seen. Knowing that it would be quite the endeavour to setup my camp in the dark I got moving. As the last glimmerings of sunlight shown over the horizon I lay back in my sleeping bag, candle still lit, I drank the last of the Yage and prepared for the evening.
I laid there asking for and receiving visions of life. While so many things had begun to reveal themselves, knots in my consciousness were unraveling, and deeper truths were revealed. The light of the candle once again licked the tall trees. The stars were out and the moon was nearly full. A warmth of serene energy enveloped me. It was this feeling that I knew deep down was the answer to all of these questions. In it I felt confidence and certainty that all of the events that led me to this place were meant to be the exactly as they were. In this way I was transformed, like a sculptor chipping away at a giant marble block revealing the art hidden within. I prayed that I never forget this feeling. I knew that if I could only just remember this feeling of confidence in myself I would never feel lost. This confidence had its root in the ebb and flow of nature all around me. And in this knowing I was grateful.
After some time I closed my eyes and tried to fall asleep.
At some point deep in the night the rain returned. It wasn’t as strong as before but strong enough that I had to get up and pack up all of my belongings once again. And so there I sat leaning against the plastic bag containing all of the items I would ever need in this adventure. It didn’t stop raining until sunrise.
The following morning, that of the last day, I setup the altar once more and smoked the last mapacho. I knew by now that the magic had occurred. I had received so many visions. I had traversed so many emotions. The rollercoaster of an open heart that had started last September from the transformando of the Brazilian medicine had been allowed to speak for 4 days. Though my intuition knew that there was still more to come.
I laid there patiently until finally the conch shell rang. One by one the helpers all returned and helped carry back all of my items back up to the maloka. Without speaking or looking anyone in the eye we once again returned to the sweat lodge to complete the final 2 doors. When we emerged from the lodge, fruit and juices of all kinds awaited us. I was quite sensitive but it was good to be back. What I didn’t fully realize upon returning was all of the integrating and unpacking that would occur over the coming weeks and months.
The following week was fraught with many ups and downs. I would come to find out that the integration period for me was going to last a number of months. Potentially for the rest of my life. While there are still 3 more vision quests to complete before this particular cycle is complete, this particular working has set in motion a number of deeper inner and outer transformations. Even now, many months later I am still unpacking the experience. I am fortunate to have a spirit family to aid in this integration. I know that I am not alone, though it may feel like that from time to time.
We do this work because there is no other way for the initiation to manifest fully. These types of experiences are both ascetic in the fasting and ecstatic in the plant medicines. As more and more people do this type of work we are catalysing the great change that is transforming this word into a greater form. We are ever growing into a multicultural, planet wide consciousness. It is beautiful to witness, yet we are all playing our part in this change. Even by reading this account of my spiritual experiences, this change is occurring within you as well. This alchemy towards purification and consecration is ever flowing and always in line with the evolutionary growth we are experiencing as a human species within our planetary environment. I witness as an outsider to these traditions and also participate as an insider as well. This is the new society. It is the new spirituality. It is new and yet it is ancient and beyond anyone one of us. We are at the crest of the evolutionary wave that is ever breaking and crashing along the shores of existence. It is incredibly complex, but it is based on a wildly simple idea: love.