Citation: Kali. "My Spiritual Limbs Were Tied: An Experience with Ayahuasca (exp58796)". Erowid.org. Feb 28, 2007. erowid.org/exp/58796
An account of drinking the psychedelic tea Ayahuasca by a long time meditator and spiritual practitioner.
My friendship with Robert began in the late 60’s. We shared a mutual interest in spirituality and, at that time, we had both experimented with psychedelic substances as a means of arriving at a deeper spiritual understanding. It had been 30 or more years since I had used these substances. In 1988 I had found a teacher or guru, Amma, and had been following her as a spiritual guide. I had also long ago given up milder mind-altering chemicals such as marijuana, coffee and alcohol. I had taken the path traveled by Ram Dass who had also emerged from the 60’s psychedelic experience with a guru. He had authored the seminal bridging book Be Here Now
. He too had traded in psychedelia for meditation and the guidance of a perfect master. Therefore, seeking concentration, clarity and union with the divine through meditation, I found these substances to have become an obstacle. Marijuana decreased my ability to concentrate and left a film-like residue that coated my mind, my awareness, which would last for several days. It made me dull. I found it to be an obstacle to meditation and clarity. While there were some profound cosmic experiences taking LSD that pointed me in the direction of spirituality, I realized that these experiences were transient and not the goal in themselves. Some individuals believe the taking of psychedelic drugs will re-wire their brains granting them enlightenment. I take issue with this point of view. While experiences can be useful to some degree, true and lasting transformation has to be engaged at the level of ordinary everyday mind. This requires personal daily effort in introspection and watching the mind to root out negative self-centered tendencies and replacing these with spiritual antidotes such as love. Personal transformation includes meditation, contemplation and prayer reaching inward to the place of perfect peace – the heart of hearts. When asked about the value of psychedelic drugs, Amma typically responds by simply saying there are no shortcuts.
And what of this transformation of our everyday ordinary mind? In a way it is not a transformation at all but a returning to our original nature – a remembering of our original nature. It is an uncovering of that which already is. The ego obscures this returning or remembering. The uncovering or revealing is the diminishing and removing of the delusional aspect of the mind or ego. The illusion of “I” and “mine” has to go. While it is true that the ego is illusory and non-existent to begin with, the problem is that our own minds do not recognize this. Lacking this discrimination, the mind makes judgments and performs actions as though the illusory I-thought were part of every equation. Greed, anger, jealousy, hatred, self-pity, war, genocide, boredom and cruelty all manifest from the state of ignorance we call the ego.
My friend Robert had asked on a number of previous occasions if I would like to drink the tea. I had always respectfully declined. I was quite satisfied with being a student of Amma’s way. There had been progress over time. Amma would teach me while visiting her. Not with words but with insights – diksha as it is known in Sanskrit. There had been many such insights. There had also been many profound experiences like becoming egoless for a period of time or visions of the divine or merging in the divine love of the universe. Over the course of visiting her for nearly 20 years there and been maybe 100 occasions where tears of joy would drip down my cheeks as I was immersed in the infinite river of Divine Love.
For years, Robert has hosted traditional Native American sweats four times each year at the equinoxes and the solstices. I try to attend these as often as is possible. Robert’s son Thom and my son James had become good friends. James had agreed to attend a tea session. At this point I decided to go as well. I confess that through the years I have harbored some degree of emotional reminiscence and also some pride regarding past psychedelic experiences. There was an unresolved desire on my part to experience that again – it was also the memory of the ‘60s – what a time that was! So there was curiosity and my son was attending. Yet another reason was a desire to share something spiritual with my friends. Then there are romantic notions about sitting in a tee pee staring into a fire contemplating the universe. On the other hand, I questioned these motives as being shallow. Amma is clear in her opinion that psychedelic drugs offer no shortcut. Take them or not, the rubber meets the road only on the avenue of daily spiritual practices. Enlightenment has to do with everyday ordinary mind. Altered states of consciousness and visions of the astral plane are not important or especially meaningful from this point of view. When the mind becomes identified with pure awareness, our original nature, there is no special significance that can be applied to one state of consciousness over the other. Awareness remains the same, immutable and changeless - the substratum upon which all form depends. Fascination with other sights or planes of existence is to be avoided. These are no more than distractions that appear on the journey to the Self. The great sage Ramana Maharshi once appropriately commented that ecstasy is the final obstacle. I struggled with the decision weighing all of these considerations and then decided to attend.
The night prior to our rendezvous I had a “chance” encounter with John, a Native American acquaintance who is about 45 years of age. He is a person who is deeply involved with traditional Native American ways including peyote sessions. His father is the chief of their tribe. In the past we had talked about our spiritual practices. I told him I was going to drink “the tea” on the following night. His head rolled back and tilted to the side as he laughed. His eyes rolled upward. “The tea! The tea makes LSD seem like taking aspirin,” he remarked. John went on to explain that he had taken the tea for the first time when he was about 15 and then one other time. He commented that he would never take it again. He advised my son James and I to remember that no matter what happens, or what we see, its all an illusion.
It was toward the end of December, not quite the winter solstice. James and I arrived at Robert’s wooded country acreage at about 5:30 PM just prior to sunset. We had brought warm clothing and stadium seats to provide back support while sitting for long hours. Robert had a beautiful white canvas tee pee with carpet on the ground inside and a fire pit in the center. He had sealed the space between the bottom of the tee pee and the ground with mounds of leaves placed on the outside. The temperature would dip into the 20’s that night. There would be five of us. Robert, his son Thom, James, myself and another long time friend from the 60’s, Rocky.
Robert prepared the peace pipe with tobacco and we passed it around 4 times, each a commemoration of the 4 sacred directions. Thom pulled a quart mason jar from his backpack and proceeded to apportion the dark thick liquid into 5 small jars with lids. He did this by carefully measuring the tea with a large basting syringe. The small jars were then distributed to the rest of us. Thom explained that we would drink maybe half or a little more the first time around and later we would drink the rest. He cautioned us that sensitivity to the tea is increased the second time around and that it would be perfectly all right if we elected not to drink the second round or to drink a small amount. So we drank the first round of the tea.
Immediately we began to play drums and to chant. Before long the tea began to take effect. There was a disorienting “stoniness” like being drunk. Energy rippled through my body in an unpleasant way. James remarked later that the physical sensation was like having a vice grip on every cell in your body. It felt the same for me. The tea peaked in about an hour. I likened the intensity of it to the sweat when it gets really hot. One has to go inside the heart or meditate to escape it. When I closed my eyes there were stunning hallucinations. They were very colorful with a luminescence in the colors not unlike neon lights. I looked at the patterns dancing in my mind’s eye and held to the understanding that, aside from an entertainment value, these were not of any special importance. Simply more forms of a different nature – a different state of mind – a different plane of existence. What is important was to ask who is the observer. This is the Self. If the mind is centered in the Self, the witness, one state of mind has no value that is different from another state of mind. It is not the ever-changing states of the mind that are important. It is the Self that is important. I reflected on the words of my Native American friend, John, “Remember no matter what you see it’s all an illusion.” The patterns in the hallucinations were moving and boiling. It was much like the effect of having the spins when one closes one’s eyes after a night of too many alcoholic beverages. The patterns were very pleasant to see but the ceaseless unrelenting movement was not. After two hours, and some amount of drum playing and chanting the effect of the tea mostly subsided. The time had arrived for a second round.
I had a small amount of pride in having weathered the first round. I had drunk about two-thirds of the original amount. Only one-third was left. I was feeling confident when I drank the remaining tea. I looked into the bottom of the empty jar and saw the dregs, the grains of tea that had settled to the bottom. It looked like sand on an ocean beach. Most likely owing to the lingering effects of my father’s pre-pubescent clean-plate-policy (remember that? – you can get up when you eat everything on your plate) I decided I should pour water into the jar and finish off the dregs. Thom remarked later that the dregs could be powerful.
We started round two by singing a bhajan to the Divine Mother written by Paramahamsa Yogananda called Bee of My Mind. I played the guitar and everyone else had rhythm instruments. We reached a joyous devotional fervor. When the song ended I realized how stoned I had become. I realized I would not be able to play the guitar and so returned it to its case. The tea had become really intense. It was moving, twisting, turning, undulating and convoluting. There was no peace. I had to keep my eyes open because the movement of the hallucinations was so active. It made me seasick. Imagine having a three-dimensional stereoscopic kaleidoscope fastened in front of your eyes. The lens of each kaleidoscope is attached to a motor that rotates at approximately 12 RPM but instead of rotating in two dimensions, it is moving in three dimensions. The forms were pleasant, even beautiful, but the ceaseless movement was not. It was like being adrift in the middle of the ocean, at night, with only a life vest in the middle of a hurricane. Bobbing, tossing, turning, churning. And the energy running up and down my body was most uncomfortable. The stoned-out spacy feeling was so intense. I wanted it to stop. At no time was there any threatening or ominous feeling about any of this. It was just very uncomfortable.
After some time Thom said, “I think its starting to back off now.” Perhaps it was just the placebo effect of Thom’s words but I thought maybe it was letting up. I didn’t realize that, for me, the tea had only just jettisoned the first stage of its booster rockets and now the second stage was kicking in taking me even further into what I could now only characterize as pure hell - the hell of endless movement, uncomfortable physical energies, and paralyzing stoniness. I was physically incapacitated and could not talk. I recalled previous psychedelic trips in my youth and how it was important to surrender everything especially the ego. So I prayed to Amma and the Divine Mother and looked at the fire visualizing throwing everything that was “me” into the blazing flames and red hot embers. That didn’t work. The relentless motion continued unabated. I was figuratively on my hands and knees for quite some time begging Amma and the Divine Mother to make it stop. It doesn’t get humbler that that and it didn’t help. I promised them I would never do this again. I tried to find the peaceful spot in the center of being but was so unable to focus my mind because of the tyranny of the stoniness, the swooning, swirling, rocking, motion and the discomfort of the vice-grip energies coursing through my body like a swarm of razor blades. I was far too stoned to focus on anything. I could not muster even an iota of concentration. I tried to focus on love for the Divine Mother and feel love for the universe. Nothing doing. My spiritual limbs were tied. I could only endure.
Like a soldier who’s training kicks in when the heat of combat licks at his heels, I thought to myself that I had to find a way to connect to love. I thought of the others. We had all been speechless for some time. Maybe they were struggling too. With extreme effort I picked up a hand drum thinking I would try to send love to them through the thumping and tapping of the drum. I managed to lift my right index finger and let it fall on the drum – poomp. About 5 seconds latter – poomp. I was at top speed. I could still not focus my mind enough to engage in any vibration of love. I consoled myself that perhaps there was part of me that was doing this for them. I was trying to give.
I was asking myself what use is a substance that removes one’s ability to feel love or find peace. Such a thing is not the way – it’s the anti-way.
James had a bad experience with the first round of tea. His heart beat raced to about 180 beats per minute and stayed there for some time before receding to a normal rate. Being naturally concerned about this he was moderate when we drank the second round. He took one small sip. Yet the second round was much more intense for him.
Around 10:00 PM, two hours into the second round, everyone was back to normal except for me. I was still roped at the legs to the back of a 1955 ayahuasca redneck pickup truck and being drug down a very bumpy dirt road at about 40 miles an hour. I made an effort to drink a bottle of water thinking that would flush the tea out of me but to no avail. Thom had brought some bean porridge. Eating was incomprehensible to me but it was suggested that it might help bring me down. I was handed a bowl and spoon. My spoon went down into the bowl… that’s it down a little more… OK a little to the right… yeah got it! Now lift your hand to your mouth. OK put it in. Now chew. I know its hard but try to chew. Good work but now you have to swallow it. That’s it. OK now rest for a minute or so and then let’s do it again. In this way I mentally coaxed my body into cooperating. The porridge didn’t help.
Finally everyone is back in their everyday mind and deciding to call it a night but I am still very ripped. Really stoned. Maybe it was the dregs. I shouldn’t have drunk the dregs. With James’ help we managed to gather up things and walk to the car. For me it was more like stumbling to the car. It was very hard to walk. As soon as James and I said good-bye to our friends and were driving off I said, “Remind me never to do this again.”
Arriving at my house, James came in to keep me company until I had weathered the storm. About midnight I began to get relief – I could see a glint of sunlight peeking through the dark boiling hurricane storm clouds. At that point I urinated 4 times with a full bladder each time and with the occurrences spaced 15 or 20 minutes apart. The tea had shut down my kidneys! As they reactivated, the urine came pouring out. This was two bottles of water and a cup of yerbe mate tea I had drunk during the evening. Having your kidneys shut down is not a good thing. By 1:30 AM I was down enough to go to bed. I was back to normal a full 3 ½ hours after everyone else.
The next morning I woke up about 6:00 AM and was unable to go back to sleep due to residual hallucinations. That day James and I both felt like we had been through a train wreck. All of the next week my daily meditations were very poor as the inability to concentrate was still evident. About a week later I began to realize that the awful churning motion I had experienced is really inherent in my mind all the time and always has been. The trip through the tossing and churning hurricane of the tea made me realize the same torturous motion I had experienced is also my ceaselessly moving everyday mind only just not as intense. We can all recall instances in our lives when we became sick and vomited a particular food leaving us with a residual distaste for that food for some time after. It is like that. I am seeing the motion of my mind in a new perspective and with a distinct distaste for it that had not previously been there. It is very disconcerting – swim or sink – find the place of inner peace or live in roller coaster hell. Its like someone forcing you meditate at gunpoint. As a result of drinking the tea I have come to regard the parade of thoughts in my mind as a kind of disease – dis-ease. I had read this before and my own teacher, Amma, has said this many times. But now I see it. It makes me feel like vomiting (figuratively speaking). One morning while sitting I actually almost had a panic attack while contemplating this. It was the feeling of being trapped in eternity. Can you feel that – being trapped in eternity? I suppose this hyper-awareness of mental movement is a good thing even though it is not pleasant. It is forcing me to try and meditate more deeply. It encourages me to say my mantra with more concentration. One can’t be lazy when faced with imprisonment in eternity! This brings to mind the stated goal of Hindu and Buddhist meditators to escape the cycle of births and deaths. I believe this is what they are talking about and the tea has helped me to be more aware of this. The ceaseless round of movement. I can relate. Let me off the merry-go-round.
I wonder how people who have no spiritual training or background would cope with this unpleasant residual undercurrent. There would be no understanding of what was happening to them both during the tea experience and afterward. They would not know there is something beyond the mind – that everything they had seen is an illusion. They wouldn’t understand how to get through it. It would be bad for these people.
On-line I read an account by another tea drinker who had an experience similar to my own. At some time in the past, he had spent several years in a Zen monastery. When he left the monastery he had felt the stark asceticism, the bland food, simple clothing and solid colors of black and brown, had been some sort of denial of the emotions. Now, after his own hyper-motion bucking bronco tea ride, he had formed a new respect for the blandness offered by the monastery. He now clearly understands the negative implications of constantly stimulating the mind and the senses. I am reminded here of Amma’s statement, “To get the taste of the heart, one has to abandon the taste of the tongue.” The word tongue is used to represent all of the senses. Yes, there is something more. Something beyond “stimulation.” There is a profound peace and contentment that waits for us beyond the mind.
Experiences can point the way. However, they are useless if we do not make an effort to apply the insight by doing spiritual practices day by day. To think that taking psychedelics will make the journey for us is simply laziness. Having a spiritual experience is like being handed a road map. The road map is pointless if we don’t make the journey by taking one step after the other – moment by moment. Or it is like being given the blueprint to a house. One cannot live in a blue print. One must make the effort to build the house. It is the transformation of our everyday ordinary mind that is most important. Experiences will not do this. Only our own focused effort and daily hard work will bring us to the Kingdom. This is what Amma means when she says there are no shortcuts.
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