This first time I drank ayahuasca, I didn’t feel or experience much at all. No visions or deep insight into the universe. No giant snakes or traveling through galaxies. Just me, in a dark room, by myself.
Years later, when I came to the medicine for a second time, I didn’t know what to expect. Maybe the medicine simply does not work on me. Maybe this is not my path, I told myself.
But this time, the medicine came on quick. It was soon clear that I was entering some new realm of consciousness that I had never been before. My mind panicked as it became aware that it was rapidly losing control. It spun frantically, futilely resisting this new state of mind coming over me, grasping for some sense of normalcy and comfort.
Yes, it was a relief in some sense that the medicine was working. But now that it was coming on, I was quickly reconsidering why I’d been so keen for the medicine to work. Do I really want to go down this path? After years of waiting for this very experience, this struck me as a cosmic joke of sorts.
I was not flying through galaxies, but the medicine was most definitely working now.
I was surprised by what I saw. My vision, not my actual sight per se, but the quality of my thoughts and experience went orange. I felt a strange surge of power, confidence, and ferocity coursing through me. I suddenly felt capable of anything. I felt as if I was something to be feared, something to be in awe of. Before long, the orangeness morphed into the unmistakable orange and black stripes of a tiger, pulsing across my vision, imprinted deeply inside me.
Power. That is the only way to describe it. I felt deeply powerful, a true tiger, the most dominant being in the entire jungle. I sat in that power, meditating, pulsing with energy, letting it seep down into my core.
The feeling was somehow deeply familiar, as if it had been waiting dormant inside of me, some indelible part of my being that had been repressed, hidden in shadow. This was some fundamental part of me that I had not had access to before. The medicine was loosening it from its hibernation.
The feeling was intoxicating. It was as if it was a whole new me waking up.
And yet, I felt a lingering sense of shame underneath it all. This feeling of power felt too bold, too confident, too dominating for me to readily accept as truly “me.” I didn’t feel good enough for it. I felt unworthy. The regal, overwhelming power of the tiger felt too awesome and potent for me to adopt for myself. I was small, deferential, too often willing to give my power away to avoid the chance that someone might not like me. I was weak, the one to be dominated. I was no tiger.
And beneath that shame and judgments of myself, I saw fear. I began to feel that I had repressed this energy not despite, but because of its incredible power. To truly be powerful like the tiger meant that I had more responsibility, the duty of using that power for the good of those around me. The belief that I am weak, not good enough, not worthy, allowed me to shirk away from my full potential, avoid this deep sense of responsibility and duty, protect myself from failure.
I sat for a long time with this energy pulsing through me, trying to make sense of it all.
Soon enough, that achy feeling in the pit of my stomach came back, and along with it, more purging. I kept dry heaving, belching out loud guttural sounds from deep in my belly, slouched over a plastic bucket, waiting for it to finally pass. But no vomit. In fact, after minutes of retching, the only thing at the bottom of my bowl was a tiny bit of dark spittle. I felt like I had purged a lifetime’s worth of emotional sludge. I laughed inside to see it manifest physically in a drop of spittle no bigger than a penny.
And then it was all out of me, finally. Quickly, a warm sense of relief spread over me and deep down throughout my whole being. I curled into the fetal position and covered myself in blanket after blanket. I felt a deep sense of relaxation, comfort, and safety unlike anything I’d ever experienced. I felt nurtured, cared for. I wanted nothing more than to just sit there, still, held in that warm cocoon. I had never felt so comfortable and secure in my entire life.
I was safe now. The medicine was here to care for me and heal me. I trusted it.
After a long time of basking in this new state of tranquility, various scenes and people from my life began flashing in front of my eyes. They jumped from one to the other, waiting just long enough to feel the emotion I had of that experience for a moment. I witnessed scenes and feelings from my marriage, my career, my relationship with my family, my relation with friends. The medicine, it seemed, asked me “Are you in right relationship here?” without judgment. In most cases, I knew that I was not. But as soon as I acknowledged this inside myself, I turned to another relationship, and then another, and then another, until I hit a frantic, overwhelming pace. My brain couldn’t compute all of this quickly enough, frantically trying to keep up and process everything.
The chaotic pace of images, memories, and people coming in and out of focus began to wear me down. As I lost energy, my attention rested on the thought my wife Sara. I could now see how often I project judgments of my self on to her, make her accountable and responsible for things out of her control, hold her to impossible standards that no one can meet. And yet, in this moment I could see her for what she really is to me, deeply kind, caring, and accepting of all my idiosyncrasies, strange interests, and imperfections. I felt a deep well of love and gratitude for her, deeper perhaps than I ever truly let myself go in “real” life.
I loved and was loved in return.
I began to weep uncontrollably and soon fell asleep.