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Turning the light on

The Amazon river, as viewed from Iquitos

December 6, 2022

Today is the day I leave Iquitos. I spent the last four days exploring the city and getting massages to ease my tense muscles. I knew getting on a plane with that kind of muscle tension would be a mistake, so my focus these last four days was just on trying to relax. Unfortunately, the GI issue that I experienced from my last ceremony many days ago continues unresolved, forcing me to admit that it’s no longer from the ayahuasca, but from something else altogether. Sigh. I was hoping I might escape Peru without the maladies that plagued me the first time I visited, but alas. 

I haven’t had a vacation this short in years, but I can honestly say that I’m looking forward to returning home already—to the comfort of my own bed, familiar food, and a place to heal my aching body. If you’ve read every post on this trip, by now you might be thinking to yourself “was all the discomfort worth it?” “Is all the purging worth it?” I guess we all have a different threshold for what makes an experience worthwhile, but right now I’m placing a high value on learning new things and discovering new ways of looking at both myself and the world I live in. Having said that, what I like about ayahuasca is its ability to shine a light on things—things you didn’t consciously know you needed to look at. Even though I only had one deep, connected ceremony on this trip, that one ceremony—particularly when juxtaposed against the other uncomfortable ones—is forcing me to consider some important things that I wasn’t really thinking about when I arrived in Peru. 

Those who are intentional (as opposed to recreational) about their use of psychedelics understand that ‘set and setting’ matters. This isn’t just about making sure you’re in a safe setting that is conducive to a positive experience, but it’s also about mindset. I came to the jungle with a lot of trepidation about the jungle itself, knowing that it’s a place where I haven’t felt comfortable in the past. I disregarded these feelings because I have a habit of powering through my discomfort—my desire for an authentic experience (or just my desire to push myself as far as I can go) nearly always takes precedence. This mindset had an impact on my overall experience. Moreover, it’s made me realize that although I was fully capable of repeatedly ignoring my own discomfort 10 years ago (and getting away with it), that time has now passed. I’m getting older and my body is letting me know that it needs to be heard, goddamnit. I believe it’s time to listen and be more mindful of the delicate balance that exists between pushing myself and honoring my limits. 

I also see that I need to find new ways to relax so that I can better manage the times when I feel tense, knowing that regardless of how outwardly calm I seem (even to myself), I’m internalizing all of the little micro tensions that appear inconsequential on the surface, but which build themselves into a mountain of tension inside of me. More importantly, I need to work on my ability to stay in the present moment, despite life’s distractions. No situation will ever be perfect, no matter how much I try to minimize my discomfort. It’s important for me to stay present—stay with myself and with the moment—despite the myriad things that attempt to pull me away. 

So, there you have it. I’d love to be able to say that my experience was epically transformative—it would certainly make a better story—but in the end, it was quiet and simple, much like myself. Overall, it felt like a continuation of that ‘peeling away’ process that began with my first taste of ayahuasca in 2021. In truth, as much as I’d love to tell an exciting tale full of vivid hallucinations and visits from spirits, I am content with my small, slow revelations. They’ve given me the time and space to learn more about myself without scaring me away with crazy pyrotechnics. What I’m learning through the ceremonies is helping me become more comfortable with change and uncertainty. This feels like a key takeaway for me, for not only does it help me adapt in a world that feels like it’s changing at a greater speed, but it also helps me to become more comfortable with the change that’s happening within as I continue to learn more about myself, evolve as a human being, and navigate an uncertain world. 

At the beginning of this trip, I mentioned that an existential crisis was partially responsible for my interest in psychedelics. When the pandemic hit, I felt as though the things that made up my identity had gone away, leaving me feeling unmoored. Perhaps the most important thing that I’ve learned through my psychedelic experiences is this: there is more. There’s more to me than the things that I do that keep me active and engaged in life. There’s more to reality than I am capable of perceiving, more to my brain than I can conceive of in my conscious experience, more neural pathways to forge, more depths in my psyche to plumb—just more. To someone who’s interested in exploring new places, psychedelics have felt like a natural extension of my world—a way to expand my landscape beyond the limited confines of our globe. They’ve helped me to say with confidence that there is far more to life than what we can see with our eyes and explore with our passports—there’s an entire universe within, just sitting there, waiting for us to turn the light on. 

Thanks again for joining me on my travels. Happy exploring, everyone.

Jungle: “… and don’t let the door hit you on the way out!” [slam]


About colleen f

Colleen is a globe trotting, sight seeing, day tripping, frequent flying traveler with a penchant for voluntourism.


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