It was my second shamanic ayahuasca retreat. In a few hours I would experience my fifth ayahuasca ceremony in five months. “I’d like to have enough ayahuasca that I never have to drink ayahuasca again,” I said to Teddy, the organizer of the retreat.
“Ok,” said Teddy.
Teddy is the younger brother of my friend, shaman and mentor Angel Jr., who is the son of Angel Hererra Sr., a powerful shaman and the founder of Etnikas Integrative Healing Clinic in Pisaq, Peru.
Five months before, in May 2016, I had experienced my first five-day shamanic ayahuasca retreat at Enitkas, including three ayahuasca ceremonies, and now I was back for a second time.
Teddy and his family knew of my background competing in mixed martial arts and all of the other crazy experiences I’d had in my life. During our ceremony the evening before I felt very similar to my first time drinking ayahuasca. I had minimal visionary experiences and very little purging. For the most part I just lay there and waited for it to be over. I came for deep healing, and I wanted to make sure I got it.
For those of you who aren’t familiar, ayahuasca is a powerful psychedelic brew from the Amazon Jungle. It is made from two plants, the ayahuasca vine and a shrub called chacruna. Taken individually, these plants don’t do much, but when brewed together over a 6–8 hour period they create a powerful psychedelic tea. When consumed, the liquid triggers powerful visions and an energetic purging process that can including laughing, crying, vomiting and diarrhea.
When it was time for our ceremony that evening, we all gathered in the “moloka,” the straw roof hut where the ceremonies were conducted. We brought in our buckets, toilet paper, and 2-litre bottles of water and waited for the ceremony begin. The shaman arrived in his colorful poncho, with medicine bag and a big Coca-Cola bottle of ayahuasca in hand. The dark, sludgy liquid could almost be mistaken for Coca-Cola if it wasn’t so thick and granular.
The nurse checked our heart rate and blood pressure. Teddy came around with Agua de Florida, a flower essence used to cleanse our aura before beginning. Next, the doctor arrived with two bowls, one with water and the other with dirt from the ground outside. We were to mix a small amount of dirt with a small amount of water then run it through our hair to create an energetic “helmet” that would protect us during our ceremony.
I looked around to see my friend Alain, my girlfriend at the time, and three of my clients who had traveled there with me, all anxiously awaiting the moment when the shaman handed them their cups of medicine.
The shaman poured each cup slowly and with great care, whistling his icaros (shamanic medicine songs) in each cup and blowing tobacco over them. Although it was hard to see from across the room, it wasn’t difficult to know which cup was mine. All were about one-fifth full at most, except my cup, which was filled to the top. The others in the room groaned as they saw that much ayahuasca in one cup.
When the cup came to me, I just looked at it. My stomach turned. I could faintly smell the familiar odor. Suddenly I had flashbacks of the many times I’d purged it into my bucket during my second ayahuasca ceremony months before.
The experience was so profound that I said I’d never drink ayahuasca again, yet here I was, with a much bigger dose in my hand. What had I gotten myself into?
The shaman poured Agua de Florida on a pile of Palo Santo in a metal bowl and lit it, filling the room with the sweet smell of the sacred wood. He looked at us and and held up his own cup of ayahuasca. With the word “Salut!,” we all drank. Gulp, gulp, gulp — after three big mouthfuls my cup was empty. We sat quietly for close to ten minutes waiting for the medicine to work. Someone turned off the lights.
My sense of time got fuzzy at this point. I don’t remember when I started purging, but I remember it came on heavy. “More water please,” Teddy would tell me, sounding a lot like his brother Angel who had said the same thing to me over and over again in my second ceremony months before.
After an eternity one of the Andean Priests came over to rub my back. I was still purging. “We’re almost done right?” I asked, completely overwhelmed by the experience. With compassion in his eyes he shook his head and said, “No, no.”
I found out the next day that we were only about 30 minutes into the ceremony at this point.
There were many aspects of the ceremony that blew my mind. One in particular. I felt like I’d died and gone to Hell. Everything went black and I no longer had any idea who or where I was. I was no longer Ricky Goodall. I was no longer in an ayahuasca ceremony and I was no longer surrounded by other people. I didn’t have a body or any comprehension of where I was. The room around me disappeared and I couldn’t hear, see or feel anything.
“Where am I?” I asked, desperate to understand what I was experiencing. Not only was there no response, but even the thought itself disappeared.
“Where am I?” I asked again, not even sure who “I” was. Still, nothing. I was terrified. Did I die? Is this Hell?
“Where am I?” I asked again. “What is this?”
Finally, after what felt like an eternity of silence, I heard someone, or something, respond to me.
“What’s wrong?” said a feminine voice.
Immediately I knew it was Mother Ayahuasca, the spirit of the ayahuasca medicine.
“Where am I? What is this?” I asked again.
“What’s wrong?” she repeated, with a touch of humour in her voice.
“Where am I? What is this? I want to go home,” I cried, confused and not even sure where home was.
“What’s wrong?” she continued. “I thought you wanted to know what it feels like to be the Creator. I thought you wanted to know what it feels like to be God. Don’t you understand? At this level of your consciousness, you’re all there is. There’s nothing for you to experience here, nothing for you to relate to or be in relationship with.”
Suddenly I felt an immense power contrasted by a terrifying fear.
“Don’t you realize?” she continued. “This life you’ve created as Ricky Goodall is the vacation you’ve given yourself to get away from being all there is. Everything and everyone you’ve ever experienced were the distractions you’ve given yourself to get away from your own infinite nature. Here, at this level of what you are, you’re all there is.”
I had sudden flashes of realization, recognizing all of the situations and relationships I’ve experienced in my life as distractions from my True Nature.
“Don’t you realize?” she went on. “The ancient people never bowed down out of fear of their Creator, they bowed down out of compassion. ‘Thank you, thank you for this gift of life, this gift of separation and duality, this gift of experience. Thank you.’”
I was overwhelmed with sadness, fear and grief — the feeling of being alone forever, never knowing anything but myself and my own creation.
“All of the suffering you’ve ever experienced in your life is nothing compared to the infinite suffering our Creator experiences,” she said. “Your suffering is the gift you’ve given yourself to distract you from the infinite loneliness you experience as the full extent of what you are.”
I began sobbing, aware of the beautiful gift of life I’d been given. I realized that all of my perceived suffering, the traumas, the abuse and the mistakes I’d made were nothing compared to the pain I was experiencing in this realm of infinity. They were nothing compared to the pain of being alone forever.
“Everyone you’ve ever met, every situation you’ve ever experienced, and every relationship you’ve ever been in was created to serve you in your growth and evolution, while simultaneously distracting you from your own infinite existence,” she said. “This life you’ve created as Ricky Goodall is the vacation you’ve given yourself to forget about who and what you truly are.”
I could not speak. Although this wasn’t the only life-changing experience I had in this ceremony, it was by far the most powerful.
I’d studied the concept of “subjective reality,” and how we are all dreaming our own dream, all manifestations of the one Creator expressing itself through our own individual experiences of reality, but never had I grasped the concept as deeply as I had in this ceremony.
In that moment I understood. I understood the meaning of life, the purpose of suffering and the gift in duality. I understood what it meant to be human, and what it means to be divine. I understood that this life I’ve created as Ricky Goodall is not who I am, but who I’m being, and that no matter how intense my suffering, it’s nothing compared to the infinite loneliness of our Creator.
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