Rain fell onto the jungle floor, rhythmically, as if a thousand fingers were lightly tapping the skin of a bongo drum, just outside the window. I lay on the hardwood floor, inside the malorca, a large wooden gazebo built in the middle of the Amazon rainforest, listening to the jungle breathing deeply, its ceaseless hum of insects, monkeys, birds and reptiles reverberating through the night. Don Lucho, ayahuasquero, curandero and shaman sat at the front of the room, dressed in white, singing his Icaros, his timeless voice stretching deep into his throat, resonating under the light of the full moon that glistened through the tree tops and seemed to penetrate deep into our bones. I could barely sit up for I was drunk with the energy of the ayahuasca, intoxicated with the spine-tingling sensation of this dark green, bitter liquid, thick in texture, heavy in consumption, dizzy in physicality, otherworldly in mind. We were a group of 15, hailing from around the world, North America, the UK, Australia, South Africa, Norway, Italy, Liechtenstein, all of us here to seek answers from the medicine, to release, to let go, to heal the past and dive deeper, connect with mother nature and further our understanding of the mystery that is life.
We lay on the floor in total darkness, save for the glittering coal of the mapacho, the strong jungle tobacco used during ceremonies as a master spirit to assist one in opening up communication with the spirit of Ayahuasca and ground oneself in times of struggle. Beneath the light of the lucent moon, we purged, physically and emotionally, the sound of vomiting echoing across the room as Madre Ayahuasca forced her way through the body and back up the throat, into the buckets conveniently placed at the foot of our mats. When she moves through your body, its as if one becomes possessed by her spirit, no longer in control, she seems to undulate through ones veins, slowly coagulating as she seeps into spots of tension, unravelling past traumas, fears and pain. The night of my first ceremony I saw the vision of a suitcase which had been sitting, locked, inside of my chest for years. She asked me, respectfully, if I was willing to open the suitcase, for it was she who possessed the key. Mother Ayahuasca warned me, however, that the contents would be painful. I agreed, wanting to go inside, for this was why I came all this way, after all. So she opened my chest and together we sobbed, sobbed for the loss of my mother and the pain I felt in never having said goodbye. I left the malorca, stumbled outside and sat under the luminous sky, sobbing and releasing. And then I saw my mother, smiling, laughing, her row of gleaming white teeth almost blinding in the blackness of my mind and she looked into my eyes, grabbed my hands and said, “You don’t have to carry this pain anymore. You can let it go. I am happy. My world is beautiful and simple and I’m free here. This pain does not serve you. Let me go and carry on with your journey, feel the joy waiting for you in every day. You don’t have to be sad anymore. I am happy.” And with that image, with the understanding that her world is one of peace, I burst out laughing, the salt of my tears drying on my cheeks as I realised the truth. Everything was ok.
Our days at the retreat were spent eating delicious vegetable based meals, plates filled with quinoa, cabbage, sweet potatoes, broccoli, beans, fish or chicken, if desired and an array of organic fruit picked straight from the trees, ripe bananas, mangos, apples, and watermelon. The Ayahuasca diet involves eliminating all toxins from the body a week prior to drinking, as well as during. This means no sex, no salt, no red meat, no unnatural sugars, no processed foods, no chilli, no alcohol, no drugs or marijuana. The reason being the more toxins one has in the body, the more one purges, and the less clarity one obtains from the process. The hardest to eliminate was the salt and despite the deliciousness of the food we ate, one can only truly understand the importance of salt and spices in food when they are taken away. Nevertheless, it felt good to rid the body of all the additives we overwhelm it with on a daily basis. In the afternoons we swam in the lake, indulged in flower baths, mud baths and fruit baths and every evening we slept in wooden huts under mosquito nets, while tiny monkeys chattered in the treetops above and neon blue butterflies flitted past our cabins, a shock of blue moving through the misty morning air. All in all we had four ceremonies, with one day off in between. Each morning, we would sit in a circle, a bunch of strangers quickly becoming family as we shared our experiences from the previous night and tried to decipher the messages we received, exposing our truth to one another without fear or hesitation. How remedying was this process, to see that we are all the same, made from the same stuff, harbouring the same fears and anxieties, how soothing to know it is our vulnerabilities that truly connect us and make us human.
I came to Ayahuasca, not only to let go of that which no longer served me, but to repair the relationship with myself, my body and my femininity, a relationship that had been impaired through years of eating disordered behaviour and through cancer, a process which saw me disconnecting with my body, for I could no longer recognise it and felt it had let me down. On the evening of our last ceremony, as the full moon kissed my skin and caressed my body, the love I had lost for myself returned, and I held myself throughout the night, smiling ear to ear with joy at the perfection of life, the symbiosis of nature, the absolute, harmonious timing of everything in the universe. I wept with joy for the beauty of my body which had endured physical warfare and only come out stronger. I embraced my curves, those which had been an enemy of mine ever since I realised real bodies were something western society despised. Self-love filled my lungs with every inhalation. I saw my connection to the earth, to every single woman on the planet and then to every single human, creature and living entity. I saw the oneness, the profound unity, the sacred connection that has existed and will always exist between us and Gaia.
And everything was ok.
I found clarity, in a wooden structure, in the midst of the Peruvian amazon. I understood my purpose. I used to think I’d be happy if my life was about attaining wealth, fame, external success, all the things we are constantly sold by the media, by our education systems, by our materialist society as the ultimate pinnacle of success and happiness. I saw that it was all a farce, a lie, a system bent on corrupting and exploiting us. I realised what I had already realised long ago, when I was a child, but had forgotten over the years, which was that my purpose on earth was to help people, to teach people, to shine light in darkness, to give something back. I saw that I was supposed to teach children, to help them do good, protect this earth, worship nature, create art, write, contribute to society through living a full, humble, earthly existence.
I left the jungle with an uncluttered mind, a feeling of overwhelming peace in my heart, an understanding of my purpose here on Earth and a newly loving and profoundly kind relationship with myself.