“Unpopular, ambiguous and dangerous, it is a voyage of discovery to the other pole of the world” C.G. Jung

This trip to Brazil was significant on a number of scores. It was the first time that we had run a session on the completed Land: an old coconut plantation that Silva had bought four years ago and in which Gary, Sue and I had invested by buying the first bungalows. In the space of those four years and with titanic effort Silvia had created a magical space with several beautifully crafted bungalows a wonderfully roomy restaurant, exotic and colourful gardens, a lagoon for swimming and the most magnificent eight-sided ceremony hall for drinking the ayahuasca.

This space, away from the Bahian coast and cupped in a bowl of the rainforest is the perfect space to drink the brew. It was created and crafted by the energy of ayahuacsa and everything here is energized by it. It’s also exquisitely beautiful.

The more important first for me was that this was the first time that I approached drinking the Plant without violent terror. Up until now it had always seemed like I was going towards something voodoo, something otherworldly and alien that happened to have enormous benefit. This time I realized that I was going towards my own unconscious.

Various experiences in the last year, most significantly my work with Rob Nairn and an approach to Jung, had taught me that nothing must be ignored, and nothing rejected. The unconscious is an enormous reservoir of energy and stories, desires and wishes that power our life.

While I was in Bahia, preparing for the first session, I read Guy Claxton’s wonderful book, The Wayward Mind which traces our varied and often antagonistic stance to the unconscious. Far from being the devil in the works, Claxton illustrates with history and neuroscience that we are largely Unconscious and the conscious part is just a little icing on the cake.

Making peace and welcoming in the energies of the unconscious becomes essential work.

This is how I approached the ayahuasca ceremonies this time.

Using the techniques of mindfulness and acceptance I’d learnt with Rob Nairn, I was able to stay with the huge volume of fear and full-body tension that always arises before I drink (no matter how amazing the previous session has been). I was able to practice with staying with whatever arose no matter how strange and how alien it seemed. I was firm in my belief that what I plunged into during those overwhelming night sessions was the depth of my unconsciousness. Those powerful currents and archetypes that Jung sees as powering our conscious lives.

And so it was.

The extraordinary match between my intention going into the ceremony and the insight that flooded me during the peak of the experience, seemed to bear out my hope that I was surfing the very engines of my unconscious. I was able to stay with everything that arose – not pushing anything away into the ‘alien and frightening’ category, but instead welcoming in into the ‘personal but not-known’ category. That way arose enormous understanding.

I am more and more convinced that this work of bringing the unconscious into the conscious is of enormous psychical benefit. Energy that is expended in repressing potential sources of energy is doubly debilitating. Energy is lost both in the repression and the refusal to tap those enormous stores of power.

I was able, for example, to free up enormous resources of tenderness and compassion that had been frozen around the emotional pain of several broken relationships from my 20s and teenage. A teenage love that had held me in its ban for 3 years at least had been pushed into the dullest, numbest regions of my unconscious – filed under ‘trivial’. But revisiting it, with the incredible emotional and memory acuity that ayahuasca brings (I was that 17 year-old again, I felt everything he felt), I was able to re-connect to that pain I felt when I was rejected and allow it arise up again. Not to push it away or ‘cure’ it but to feel it in all its powerful humanity.

I felt this very strongly. That nothing that arises falls out of the remit of being human. Therefore, it’s fatal to want to remove stuff, or push it elsewhere. There is no elsewhere to push it. A better strategy is to embrace it and bring it joyfully into a sense of being fully human.

As I lay there on the mats, heart full to bursting with sadness and pain, I have never felt more beautifully human. Or more alive.


  1. Courtney

    October 11, 2008 at 10:34 pm

    First off, thanks for sharing such a deeply personal
    experience with us.

    I’ve always found that looking back on past pain, especially
    childhood pain can be freeing. As you stated in the previous
    entry, the pain and the decisions made based on that pain and
    fear become an unconscious thread weaving its way through
    the rest of our lives. Once we’ve acknowledged it’s presence
    in our lives, we can work on removing it. That process is not
    always easy to do, because we as human beings have to face
    some scary and quite painful times in our lives, which were
    avoided being dealt with for a reason. I applaud you the
    efforts you are making and have made already. And again,
    thank you for sharing this with us all.

  2. Valerie W.

    November 25, 2008 at 4:28 pm

    The jist of this all is that life is an experience and we
    have to take the good and the bad as life lessons and keep
    moving forward. Its like moving through a hallway of doors
    and hands keep grabbing at you, but instead of avoiding the
    hands we should just shake the hand and move on.

  3. Daniel Murray

    December 21, 2008 at 5:40 am

    Healing: oh so needed…oh so welcome.

    Thanks, Alistair, for sharing your healing journey.

  4. Do Buddhists Watch Telly? » nothing has changed but nothing’s the same / and every tomorrow will be yesterday

    April 13, 2009 at 12:20 pm

    […] Brazil last October, I fell back in love with the me that loved Nathan Rushin, my boyhood crush, endlessly and vastly. […]

Leave a Reply to Valerie W. Cancel