Last Saturday night I participated in one of the most amazing experiences of my life. Forget an introduction, let’s just get right to it :)
The whole thing started at 6pm, or well, it was supposed to anyways. Shamans, like Miamians, seem to enjoy being fashionably late... they arrived at 8:30pm ;). haaaah!
We set up the studio with large mats, pillows and blankets. This ceremony will be all night they say, so make it comfortable :). Upstairs, we also prepared a huge banquet of fruits and breads and cheese for the morning. This ceremony will end with a feast :).
The night before, 5 of us girls had gone out salsa dancing in Quito (so fun!), so I was running on only about 5 hours of sleep. By the time people started arriving, 13 in total, I was struggling to keep my eyes open. Ummmpphhh. I could barely muster up the desire to introduce myself, let alone converse in spanish, so I stayed quiet at first, not knowing what to do anyways since this whole medicinal ceremony was so new.
The first hour after they arrived was just preparing. The shamans readied their altar, complete with all sorts of bottles and stones and flowers and feathers and carvings. Ruben, the shaman wife, then meticulously prepared a flower alter around the center fire that would burn all night. It was upon this fire they would ritually throw herbal offerings, and from which we all would wave the smoke upon our heads and our hearts.
Then, the first round of the medicine. We came one by one in order of our seating arrangement to the altar, receiving the cup from Ruben. Before partaking, we offered it always to the center fire first, and made a little request. Mine was always for my heart to be open always. The taste was bitter, but not brutal, and followed with an irrepressible shudder from top to bottom ;).
Early in the night, the feelings were simple as the medicine started to kick in: light, airy, dreamy, happy. There were times I thought I would fall asleep, but then a new song would enliven me. This shaman family seriously produced the most beautiful music I have ever heard. Bladi, the father, or Miguel, his spitting image son, would play the guitar and both would sing in perfect harmony. At times they would chant incredibly fast, incomprehensibly, and I was amazed at how precisely perfect they could stay together. Ohhh and then the mother---the most flawless, high pitched, soft, smooth, profound voice, rounding out the family band in the most precise moments. The Shaman informed us this is the most important part, that we must sing along. Shortly into it, Bladi calls me out, noticing I was half in/half out because of the spanish lyrics and my musical impediment. He says I must sing! I’ve learned a lot about mantras and chanting over the past two weeks, the vibrations of the sounds seeping into your subconscious; relaxing, calming, connecting with the frequencies of nature and the universe. Ok, "voy a cantar", I will sing :).
Throughout the night, we have 4-5 rounds of the medicine. Every time was optional, because the chance of vomiting is real, but for me there was an insatiable desire to have more, to get the most from this experience. Between rounds there was singing and chanting and hilarious comedy mixed with sincere teachings. Bladi is a true joker, teasing Jose, our Spaniard, about his accent. Poking fun about this and that, going back and forth with his son. Often he would ask about ‘our family’, how are we doing. He tells us different ways we can appreciate and agree with each other, by saying: ah-ho, ah-hey, yaaaaaa, neeeeeyy, all in his own funny way. There is much laughing, and multiple times more love.
I’m not sure at what point it happened, but soon my chest felt like double it’s size, the beat of my heart loud and obvious. The true understanding of what this ceremony is about hails down upon you: Love is all there is :).
I was sitting next to Satya. We had spoken about sitting near each other so that she could translate for me (remember this is all in spanish!), but after the first hour or so I didn’t need it. I understood everything. It’s very interesting, when you stop trying to capture every single word, and instead capture the essense, the reactions of others, the understanding within you. With all inhibitions dropped, and this amazing feeling of non-judgement, I was pretty impressed with my comprehension :).
But the best reason for sitting next to Satya, was because we were able to share all this love that was so unmistakable in the room. Many times we would lean on each other, hold hands, just acknowledge each other.
Her ex-boyfriend happened to be there, and let me tell you, it was ammmmazzzzing to feel their love for each other, even despite their separation. Like nothing else, this medicine opens your eyes and heart to feel everything wonderful in the world, and every look these two had with each other was magic. Satya and I had this great unspoken language, where we would look at each other and thru our eyes were talking about this magic that was happening between she and he. I started rooting silently for their reuniting :).
To my left side was an Ecuadorian guy named Victor. He has done a ceremony like this about 5 times, and was excited for it being my first. In the beginning we were perfect strangers, but it didn’t take long for our friendship to solidify. I found this quote that is absolutely dead-on:
"If we could sniff or swallow something that would, for five or six hours each day, abolish our solitude as individuals, atone us with our fellows in a glowing exaltation of affection and make life in all its aspects seem not only worth living, but divinely beautiful and significant, .... it seems to me, all our problems (and not merely the one small problem of discovering a novel pleasure) would be wholly solved and earth would become paradise."
Yep, exactly. It must have been about 5am when we took our last sips of the medicine. By this time there was no doubt we were all in it, really feeling like we were under the guidance and direction of something incredibly spiritual. From there we started our closing ceremony. I believe the idea was to pass around the sacred cigarette again, taking turns again expressing gratitude and your feelings. But Miguel (the ex-bf of Satya) was having an amazingly beautiful moment, and continued his gratitude for probably an hour. It was amazing, I was crying! Ohhhh these two!! So fantastic are both of their souls!
Finally we just went around the circle to express ourselves (because the cigarette was smoked!) When it came to me, I started with an english “Wow” :). How grateful I was to have been able to be a part of this, to have had all the cards of my life to unfold just as they had to put me there at that moment, and to remember how amazing love is. Love really is the answer to everything.
As the sun came up and the ceremony ended, we all became much less formal, and much more bonded. We laid about, some people swayed to the music. Someone went and got the fruit from upstairs and that was the best idea ever. Every bite of mango, papaya, banana, apple, bread, cheese--- oh it was heaven :). The shamans played amazing music, and made hilarious jokes. Victor and I tried some Acro yoga, Satya and Miguel had reunited in this blissfully amazing love story and couldn't help but gaze at each other. All the talk was incredibly positive, powerful, enlightened. I laid on Iris, the director here, and Dani, and we joked about how I had been so resistant to the fact that I can understand spanish... and here was the great proof :). We hugged and squeezed and smiled so much my jaw was beginning to hurt :).
About 10 ish we finally started the clean up, and the walk up to the main building. There was the partaking of soup, and then long drawn out goodbyes, a million true big bear hugs (the best kind!). At 11:30am, I retreated to my room. I took the most wonderful shower of all time. I laid in my bed for quite a while just euphoric. Wow :).
This experience with the San Pedro cactus reminded me of that. There are millions of things I love right now, it's only to necessary to acknowledge and appreciate them. This experience was definitely one of them :)
And no, I don’t think of it as just a trip on a recreational drug. Technically, yes, this ‘medicine’ of the San Pedro cactus produces mescaline, which for me had very similar sensations to that of twice-taken Molly (ecstasy). But, aside from the super loving state, it didn’t feel like those times, it didn’t feel like a party. It was different, it was guided, it was intentional, it was a gratitude celebration, a ceremony entirely devoted to connect, grow, learn, awaken, to open your eyes and heart. I felt a connection with the world, with the earth, with everyone and everything, rather than just my bf. The juice of this cactus has a long history in Andean medicine, has been used by shamans and healers for religious, therapeutic and restorative ceremonies favorably for over 3,000 years! They call it the teacher plant, and oh what a master teacher it is! You’ve more than liken heard or read that ‘we are all one’. To actually experience this oneness is an incredible gift.
What are we here on this earth for it not to make it a little better for all of mankind? What easier way to do that then by simply loving :).