November 30, 2022
After the night of the first ceremony, I was lying in bed one evening, trying to fall asleep and having difficulty because of the heat and the tightness in my neck. I remember suddenly smelling agua de florida, that aromatic liquid that Eladio uses often in his ceremonies. For a split second, I imagined that Eladio was in the room with me, but then immediately dismissed it. I smelled my clothes and pillow to see if the smell lingered on something and found nothing. I wrote it off thinking LY was using it in her room, which was right next to mine. The next morning, I asked her about it, but she said she hadn’t been using it.
Last night, as I was falling asleep, I remember feeling like I couldn’t breathe well. My chest felt constricted from not using my asthma inhalers as often as I normally do (inhalers are contraindicated, so I take them less often when I am doing ayahuasca). I made a mental note that I needed to take them the next day. Not long after, I smelled the agua de florida again. Again, I assumed the smell must be lingering on the air or someone nearby was using it. I slept well after that, the first time I’d slept well in days.
Today, we awoke at 4:30a for our last early morning wake up of plant medicine. It’s the last day of the dieta, which feels a bit less momentous since shortly after our near revolt, Maria resumed making ‘normal’ food for breakfast and lunch, with us continuing to abstain at dinner (a compromise). After breakfast, we all met with Eladio in the maloca to officially cut the dieta, which is done with a glass of lemon water (acid is apparently the key to cutting the diet). During a discussion about healing plants that grow on the property, Eladio pointed at me and said he saw that I was not breathing well last night, so he would make me some juice from his cashew tree. The juice from the cashew fruit, he explained, would help clear my lungs. I was shocked. “When did you see that?” I asked. He replied that he ‘checks’ on all of us at night to see how we’re doing. I asked him if he uses agua de florida when he does that and he said he does. Now, do not let my presence at an ayahuasca retreat fool you: I’m a horrible skeptic. My interest in psychedelics has been largely through the lens of neuroscience, not spirituality, which makes me a bit odd in the psychedelic community. Nevertheless, I consider myself open and realize there are many things in this world that cannot be explained and that require me to suspend judgment. So, the fact that Eladio could see my neck pain in the darkness of the first ceremony without yet knowing that I struggle with chronic pain, plus the fleeting sense I had that he’s in the room with me, plus his knowledge of my chest tightness when I displayed no outward signs of wheezing—I don’t know, somehow in that moment it all made complete sense. Perhaps he’s truly able to connect with us even when he can’t physically see us.
After our talk about plants, we went for a walk in the jungle to look at the different plants that we discussed. We were all dressed in long sleeves and long pants, which was tortuous as it’s been growing ever hotter as the days have progressed. Eladio handed me a stick. “For snakes,” he said. We walked upon the jungle floor, soft with years of accumulated dead leaves that had not yet decomposed. Alex, Frankie’s partner, followed our group with an ancient-looking rusted rifle, ostensibly to shoot any jaguars we happened across. We commenced our tour, stopping often so Eladio could discuss a plant or a tree and explain its properties. We started with achiote, a plant that had a bright red pod that, when opened, revealed equally bright red berries. Eladio explained that it could be used as an ingredient in food, as a cosmetic to paint the face for ceremonies, and also to heal scars. Then we discussed some of the plants that are extremely toxic—one tree is so toxic that if you pulverize the bark, you can use the resulting fluid as a poison. The poison can be used to coat the tip of a spear to ensure a hunting kill, or put into a pond to kill all the fish. Nearly everything in the jungle has a use, for good or ill.
Tonight is our last night of ceremony. I’m looking forward to it because I want to continue to work on the physical discomfort that has plagued me throughout this experience. I’ve asked Eladio if I could have a different medicine than what was used in the previous ceremony—that was by far the best one in terms of helping me feel connected and giving me at least some visuals, but it’s effects lasted for more than 16 hours. I just didn’t think I could do that again.
8p Ceremony 4. The extreme heat of the day continued into the evening and by the time we entered the maloca, it was stifling and made me feel like I was sitting in a sauna fully clothed. After taking my drink, I lay down on my mat, noting how damp my clothes had gotten from sweat. The heat made my chest feel more constricted and the tension in my body was unrelenting. As the ayahuasca took effect, I continuously tried to use the lesson I learned from the previous ceremony and practiced ‘staying with’ the discomfort, but the heat made it difficult for me to relax. I had the sense that the relief I found in the previous ceremony was a tenuous one, easily disturbed with the introduction of a few new distracting forces.
Though I kept trying to turn my discomfort into a practice, I was continuously distracted by the heat and my sweating. At one point, a large insect began crawling on my arm, which further added to my discomfort and made me grateful for the darkness. I went up for a second drink, hoping it would help me push past the discomfort. The nausea started then, persisting intermittently throughout the night. I attempted to force a purge for some relief, but to no avail. However, what didn’t come out of me in the form of vomit came out in the form of GI purging, forcing me to make several hurried visits to the bathroom. Still unable to get comfortable enough to ‘drop in’ and connect to the experience, I went up for a third drink. It takes a lot of willpower to willingly drink something that is so noxious and foul, so I was disappointed when I purged it up immediately once I returned to my mat, nearly missing my bucket with the suddenness of it. I decided that rather than return for a replacement cup, I needed to take that as a cue from my body that I’d had enough. After that, I resigned myself and completely abandoned my hope that this ceremony would be anything more than it was—at that point, all I wanted was to lie as comfortably as I could. This resignation helped me to finally achieve some physical relief, but it was precious little on this sweltering evening. By the time the ceremony was over, I was eager to return to my room.
Because I only had one ceremony on this retreat where I felt deeply connected to the experience, I hoped this last ceremony would be epic. However, I should know better than to place expectations on a ceremony. Often, what you actually get from it is not what you want, but what you need at that moment. Sometimes you don’t consciously get anything at all, particularly when you’re fighting with distractions. Tonight I discovered that a single ceremony was not enough to resolve my issue. I have far more work to do when it comes to learning to be comfortable with the things that make me uncomfortable—particularly if my practice of breathing into, staying with, and accepting the discomfort can be so easily derailed by yet a few more uncomfortable factors.