A new note on Ayahuasca
It’s been four years since I drank ayahuasca.
When I arrived back in Brazil this November to drink again, I met a handful of people who were there because of the little film I made almost 10 years ago, called “The Man Who Drank the Universe”. I revisited that film and was tickled by the tiggerish enthusiasm I filled the screen with, especially back in the UK, three months after my epiphanic Brazilian experience.
A lot has happened in my life in the four years since I last drank, let alone in the 11 years since I first drank back in 2004. Some of my changed thoughts reflect those changes in myself, some reflect a more respectful understanding of the Plant and where it comes from.
The most jarring thing that jumped out at me was my bouncy certainty about how the plant works: “Ayahuasca is simply a chemical, DMT, that opens up your mind to work with the contents of your mind”. Now, I’m not so sure that there’s anything very simple about ayahuasca. And I might also question the plumb certainty of me saying: “your mind is the therapist”.
Much of my work as a trainee, as a therapist and as a meditation practitioner has revolved around the notion of the limits of “my mind”. Where in 2005 I was ebulliently confident and bullish about the power and wisdom of ‘my mind’, by 2015 I am much more humble about its limitations.
When I went to Brazil this time it was following the extreme rough-and-tumble of the last four years. In those years I finished the thunderous training of therapy, I weathered the physical collapse and recovery of my health, I experienced the extremes of mental fragility and I re-connected with the teaching of the Buddha Dharma. And all that made me much more interested in the power of the ‘Not-I’ than the hollow posturing of the ‘I’.
My friend Amanda’s statement in the film that Ayahuasca “lowers all your boundaries and uses you to cross-question you” seemed much more apropos.
This time, I arrived in Bahia with a lot less dissociated anxiety. I had spend 6 years working through the various puzzle pieces of my childhood and adolescence. I had come to a sense of joy around my sexuality and my relationships. I had begun to connect with the power of the World beyond myself through my work with Reggie Ray. So I was much more open to the power of the Plant rather than the power of my mind.
I shan’t list all the visionary splendours of my visions (like listening to other people’s dreams, it’s pretty dull reading) but I can say – hand on big heart – that I am happy to have gone back and despite the interim, the Plant was as powerful and moving as ever.
However, now I might change my understanding of Ayahuasca works. I am now much more attuned to the presence of the ‘Beyond-Me’ in my life. It’s the extreme of arrogance to assume that this miraculous but limited brain of mine is all there is in the world. That view walls off the infinite resources of the Universe as they unfurl and play around my head. Opening, bit by bit, to the vastness of the ‘Not-I’ is what I’m about now. And that is the process infinitely aided by Aya.
By some miracle of human intuition / biological prompting, the wise people of the Amazon saw how to brew these two quite distinct plants together and to drink them. Doing so unlocks a passage way from the narrow, anxious thickets of the ego mind into the wild, energetic expanse of the Other, the Universe. Nowadays, I would be very sceptical about assuming that my little mind has the necessary intelligence to process that amount of splendour. The Plant (or the state of mind the Plant accesses) does. This is an intelligence that we lucky enough to submerge ourselves in.
I saw very clearly that it’s the same intelligence that underlies all spirituality. We might call it by different names and arrive at it by different routes but that fierce ‘Not I’ is dharmakaya, is God, is Brahman, is Heidegger’s Lichtung. And I am feeling very grateful to have had access to it again for a week in the technicolour Brazilian sunshine.
I’m back in the winter sunshine of Newhaven and perhaps a little less tiggerish than 10 years ago. But perhaps more gently moved and more profoundly comforted. And that’s what I feel glowing in my spine as I sit here in the garden hut and type. The ‘Not-I’ endures and I’m very glad it does.