How do I begin this? How do I attempt to describe the ineffable? I suppose I just start. That seems appropriate, especially given the messages I’ve been ingrained with over this past month. Begin, move forward, live life "now".
There is talk of a “calling” that one receives. I firmly believe in this. When I look back at each and every step from my past to present it seems like a perfectly choreographed dance of lessons, interactions, ups, downs, and everything in between. I feel as though I’ve reached the apex of a peak and can now finally look back and see the entire path and its intricate meandering route. This is a testament to “now” I suppose. For to be able to look back at life in general and have no regrets, just awe and wonder at how it took each step to get here, this is something special. And I’m fully in love with “here”, with “now”, with life, and ultimately with me.
Last June was my first step into the world of shamanism and plant medicines. It was a necessary step but somehow it wasn’t the huge plunge that I may have been hoping for. Somewhere in me I was still resisting, still holding on, and still trying to outsmart the process. Within a month or two of returning I felt the pull again. Life wasn’t all that perfect at home and there was this feeling of, “I need to make a shift, something has to change”. So this time it was Huachuma (aka San Pedro - although according to Don Howard this is definitely different from San Pedro) that called me. When you know it’s time you just know. I booked my journey for January.
Many things were coming to a head. A lot of anxiety and heartache and an overall sense of constantly living in limbo … this had become a large part of my waking life. Something had to shift. My parting note to life in Canada was the great Heraclitus quote, “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it is not the same river and he is not the same man”. I knew there was a change on the horizon, I just couldn’t have imagined how dramatic it was to be. Through taxis, airplanes, and buses I rapidly ended up at the SpiritQuest Sanctuary outside of Iquitos, Peru. It felt as natural as could be. Of course there were still some nerves as to what might come but overall it couldn’t have gone smoother.
I could go on about the setting and the minutia of each interaction and so on but I think I’ll just get to the big messages and changes as quickly as I can.
We were to partake in three ceremonies over the seven day retreat. Each ceremony having a feel or theme to it. The first being water, incorporating a sense of levity and birthing. The second would be earth, in which Don Howard alluded to the fact that there may be some heavy times and if need be we’d have to acknowledge and sit with those feelings. The third and final would be air, in which we’d have a chance to connect beyond our earthly confines and go into the astral realm. I wondered how three ceremonies with the exact same medicine could have three very different effects. Huachuma was also described as hitting you with a feather rather than a hammer. Let me tell you, it’s one very very heavy and slow feather … it’s tough to describe this in words and metaphor. This medicine is known as a heart opener and the mesada (initiation) is an introduction to the jaguar spirit (no fear) … from what I will write next, it couldn’t have hit either of these points more perfectly.
In the past I always tried to be the recorder. I tried to take the experience, outsmart it, and create wordplay to describe it and bring it back to others. This time, things became truly ineffable. I’ll be writing about this and thinking about it for my entire life but there is a core to it that will never be described properly. It must be experienced rather than relayed.
The first ceremony (water) began. Each individual was called up to the Mesa (altar). Two fingers on each hand plugged into the edges of the table. Don Howard cleansing and protecting us with his mapacho (smoke) and rattles. When the music stopped you drank. A not too bitter brew, a large cup. Once the medicine was down it was just a waiting game. What would happen next? For me that first session was quite light. My intention going in was to be an open vessel to the universe, ready to accept love … I also aimed at connection to all and a sense of safety. Before I drank Don Howard says to me, “You’re here for a reason aren’t you brother? It’s all about love and connection here, you are safe.” And with that he had read my mind and I knew I was in good hands. The first of many mystical experiences and I hadn’t even drunk the brew yet.
Almost immediately after drinking we gathered out belongings and headed out for the day. A boat ride down the river. Listening to headphones to drown out the motors it began to get quite beautiful. Everything slightly enhanced. The music became an impressive soundtrack to the beauty of life in the Amazon. The entire time I was processing what was going on. Trying to gauge it, trying to hold on. Well, my ego was trying to hold on I suppose. I felt a sense of buoyancy, but still I couldn’t let go. We visited a tribe. Smiling faces and joy were all around us. Children with the best smiles I’ve ever seen. We watched a ceremonial dance and song and then were free to wander as we would. Again, this first session was not quite as deep as I might have imagined … I wouldn’t let it get too deep. There were some very beautiful moments but overall I began to wonder if this was the right path for me. The boat ride home was quite glorious, I chose the ideal music for the trip and as the sun set I started to catch a glimpse of what this medicine could be. By the time we returned to the maloca (ceremonial hut) I was all but back to myself. There were others who were directly plugged in that night but for me it had already faded to a mere whisper. The first ceremony was complete and I still had many questions.
That night I couldn’t sleep at all. I had the most excruciating headache. It felt like things were being shifted and torn out in there. Like long stands of pain were being dragged across my mind. I know not what to make of this but it seemed like and important step. Something had to be rewired if I was to continue.
The second ceremony (earth) was still filled with the unknown for me. I hadn’t gone deep enough in the first so I knew not what to expect. Through the same ceremony we drank our medicine and again headed out for the day. This time I knew immediately it was going to hit me harder. There was that sense of levity but there was something deep and heavy intertwined in there as well. Another glorious boat ride. Music has never sounded so perfect to me. This time we went on a hike of about forty minutes. It felt good to move, to be in the jungle, to feel very much connected to nature. Still, my mind held on, I was resisting but beginning to lose that battle. We ended up at a clearing with a small pond for swimming. Through the circumstance and having recently had my back tattooed I couldn’t go for a swim. So I stood and watched. There was a moment when the rain began to fall and the sun was shining on the water … the staccato of light, reflection, and ripple … there was a moment there that still feels as though it’s reverberating through eternity. I felt stuck. Physically and mentally. I was at an impasse and something had to give. We went back to another small clearing and the tribe was about to do a ceremonial dance. At this point everything got extremely heavy for me. I felt the earth pulling me down, engulfing me. It was eternal and immense and I knew not what to do. Every negative thought began to fill my head, “this is bullshit, look at us, just a bunch of drugged up foreigners in the jungle, this is scheisterism not shamanism, fuck it I’m never doing this again”. On and on these thoughts went. I felt heavier and heavier. It was the closest to death I think I’ve ever felt. I cannot describe it better than that. And it was a death of sorts. There was a part of me (or my ego) that had to die. The resistance had to end if I was to begin. And so I let go. I let the medicine finally take hold in full effect. I surrendered and accepted what was given. From there everything became glorious. The tribe did a ceremonial song and dance and with each moment I began to feel my power return. We hiked back to the boats and that boat ride, man, that was something else. The most miraculous sunset set to music. My heart was so wide open by this point. I’ve never felt such an immense sense of calm, of peace, of love and belonging. Returning to the maloca we partook in more ceremony. This time I was plugged in, this time I was beginning to get it.
There are moments which are beyond words. As Terrence McKenna would say, they are “un-Englishable”. From here on in that rings so very true. But nonetheless I’ll give it a try.
The third ceremony (air) was filled with excitement for me. I had a sense of what was to come. The fear had subsided and all that remained was wonder and awe. This time we drank and then immediately went for a hike. It was a matter of minutes before I was tuned in and vibrating with an energy of connection that I cannot describe. The jungle was me and I was the jungle. A shared experience by almost everyone in the group … the trees were whispering all around us and the earth was breathing. Yes, breathing, I would sit and watch and it was undeniable. Everything else would be perfectly still and I’d see a small pocket of earth calmly inhaling and exhaling. It was beautiful. And that’s what I was told of Huachuma, it’s a clarifier. It doesn’t alter what is there it just allows us to truly see what is going on all around us all of the time. This time it was so very different. I had plugged in completely. There was no resistance on my part. My intention for this day was, “Accept what it given. Respect all things”. And this mantra rang so very true for the entirety of the process. Again, there are moments which I cannot describe. I was given the knowledge that the universe is infinite and eternal and at the core it is all just love. To know this rather than think it or theorize it, this is something different. The hangups and fears that we create, they are so very bizarre. All that we are here to do is be the best person we can possibly be. The universe wants me to fully experience it through the best possible Cohen imaginable. For that’s what we are, the universe playing hide and seek with itself and when this incarnation ends we get to go back to the whole and repeat and repeat and repeat. I love the analogy of Alan Watts, the idea that we are all waves in the ocean. When one wave crashes it is not sad, the ocean remains the ocean and is not individuated into single waves coming or going. A sense of strength and calm continued to grow in me throughout the day.
Eventually we made our way to the sky deck, a platform at the highest point for as far as the eye could see. And this is where most of us got stuck in time, or stepped out of time perhaps. It was just pure awe and bliss. Staring at the sky, just above the canopy of the jungle. Again, no words for this. But I do know that most of us had a shared experience there. It was difficult to move for I didn’t want to disturb the perfection of “now”. At one point I laid back on the warm concrete. Eyes closed and the rain began to hit me. It was total synesthesia. Each drop was a staccato burst of light on my body. I could see each point where it hit me and touch, sound, sight … it all melded into one perfect harmony. I know not how long we were up at the star deck, it felt like eternity, it feels like I’m still there to some degree. Eventually we began to make our way down to the maloca. This time I was still so astoundingly plugged in. I would sit with eyes closed and see very clearly the energetic pattern of what was going on around me. It was so much brighter inside my head with eyes closed than it was outside with eyes open. Vibratory patterns of purple and green on a matte black background. Just pure bliss and connection. It felt as though my head had opened at the top and the dome of the universe was one and the same … I was everything and everything was me. The edges between everything had completely dissolved. The separation of self had completely obliterated. I was surfing the cosmic sea and it was so very very perfect. Again, no words to describe this event. At one point Don Howard approached from behind, my eyes closed I could still see him in perfect detail. He crouched over me, his being arching over the view of the eternal and it was so very gentle and tender and loving. There isn’t a doubt in my mind that he was viewing straight into my core, seeing all that I was seeing. The ceremony eventually ended but my journey was still going strong. Some of us remained in the maloca for quite some time. Watching as the candles burnt out one by one. There was a part of me that watched that last candle flicker and dance, a part of me that fully believed that when that candle went out so would all else. I would be extinguished and return to the ocean, my wave cresting and falling. And perhaps this happened to some degree.
Something amazing shifted over these three ceremonies. Every little fear I’ve ever had, I left it there in the Amazon. There is this sense of calm and warmth that pervades everything now. There is an overwhelming love and awe for existence. My head and my heart have both been opened so wide that there is no chance they will ever begin to close. For those of you that know me, well, I’m sure you’ve seen this … the shift is so very real. There’s a glow to life that I’ve never experienced before. Each interaction becomes more exciting and important. Each connection a new opportunity and adventure. For the first few days I’d wake up worried that this feeling might be fleeting, that it might fade. I’m glad to say this is not the case. I truly have returned from the river a different man. Suddenly everything in life is so very exciting. And the perspective shift, man, it’s something else. All of those hangups and forms of resistance, they’re all just gone. Fear is such an anchor and I’ve become untethered. Without a doubt this has been the most important month of my life. The reverberations of which will be felt for the rest of my days.
There is far more to this story but I feel as though this has been a small taste of what I’m thinking and feeling. It’s tough to describe that which is beyond words but I’ve given it a try. That feather of Huachuma, it hit so very slow and so very heavy, an impact which I didn’t even see coming. And now my life is virtually unrecognizable. I feel so very loved and cared for by everyone around me. Connections which I may have ignored due to fear and the unknown, they are springing up at every turn … the community I’ve always dreamed of has been sitting there for me to grasp all along. The life I’ve wanted to lead, I’m getting to lead it now. I have said aloud many a time over the past few weeks, “This is the life I get to lead?” I’m in utter awe of the universe and my place in it. Yes, this is the life I get to lead, this is the life I will navigate with an open heart and a calm mind.
Accept what is give.
Respect all things.
I have so much gratitude for life and connection and all of those who have played a role in this.