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Bruce Parry

Mother Ayahuasca versus Bruce Parry

Posted from: Iquitos
My ayahuasca experience last night was one of the more humbling nights of my life. Remarkably, it seems, my ego decided to take on Mother Ayahuasca in some sort of a battle. Horrified, I watched the whole thing from the sidelines, feeling very annoyed with my ego for putting up such a relentless attack.

Looking back, I suppose it all started long before the ceremony began. I was feeling quite cocky about my preparation for the whole experience. I’d done a lot of research and was preparing to get my inner mindset and the physical setting just right.

The other members of the retreat all seemed very nice and were supportive of us filming this private ceremony. We had all bathed and been ritually doused in fine scented plant extracts and essences earlier in the evening and I had had a chance to interact with the group who had come from all over the world.

Some of the incumbents had been at the retreat for some time and everyone was very complimentary about Percy (the healer) and his brews of the sacred vine. If I was going to undergo such a powerful experience anywhere, this seemed like a good location.

When it came to the ceremony itself, we all had mattresses and pillows and buckets fanned out in a circle in the rotunda hut. Toilets were located to afford easy access in the dark – an essential requirement as it turned out. The ayahuasca brew itself was as thick as molten glass and as acrid as battery acid but everyone took it with due reverence and with only a hint of a grimace until the mouth had been swilled with water.

Much ceremony was put into the occasion and Percy blew smoke everywhere and so used the powerful tobacco plant in addition to the brew. Once we’d all partaken of the brew, the crew left and we all lay down to receive our respective experiences.

I have taken the same active hallucinogenic compound before with the Sanema people of the Orinoco basin, during the filming of an episode of Tribe. In that instance it had been administered through the nose (I’d say snorted but often the snuff was blown up my nose through a hollow tube by one of my tribal chums). This time it was to be taken orally, but only thanks to some quite extraordinary tribal knowledge of human physiology.

The science works like this: Dimethyltriptamine (DMT) is an extremely powerful visionary hallucinogen and is found in some plants and trees but it’s completely metabolised if eaten, which just renders it neutral as a psychotropic agent. However, by snorting a dried tree sap residue, the DMT can enter the bloodstream by bypassing the liver’s metabolising enzymes. But whoever thought to try snorting tree sap?

Likewise, some Amazonian tribal groups have somehow discovered that mixing two otherwise foul-tasting and nutritionally deficient plants (a vine and a leaf) will also allow the compound to enter the blood stream. Amazingly, the vine inhibits the metabolizing enzymes allowing the DMT in the leaf to pass through untouched.

Both methods are convoluted to say the least and it remains a mystery how tribes have discovered such involved methods of administration. Some contemporary shamans say that the plants speak to them and give them the knowledge, but most just say that their ancestors taught them.

DMT is almost identical in chemical shape to serotonin and interacts with the same receptors in the brain. Beyond that no one can rightly say with any certainty what really happens. If you follow a rational view you might say that you undertake a journey of inner exploration of the subconscious. Alternatively, you might say that you actually go to a different plane of reality. There is no doubt that for many, taking ayahuasca is a religious experience.

Whatever your school of thought, it is certainly one of the most profound experiences imaginable (or more correctly unimaginable as it is almost defined by its inexplicability)!

For me, it was at once disappointing, telling and humbling. Sadly it was my self-confidence that tripped me up. I was feeling confident and so prepared, that as the visual fireworks began in my head, I shuffled to get more comfortable and arrogantly provoked the plant by musing to myself, ‘come on then, let’s see what you’ve got to offer’.

How foolish of me. Almost instantly it all went wrong and I felt a wretched sickness welling up inside. Deep down I knew that what I needed was to relax, remain humble and allow the experience to wash over me, but some inner ego kept piping up and questioning the whole experience.

I’m quite proud of my inquisitiveness usually and I like questioning everything and not blindly believing ‘just because’. But what was interesting this time was that I was on the outskirts of my self looking in. My ego was rattling on in its usual way but this time it wasn’t making any sense.

It was almost like background ‘white-noise’, just a clutter of questions for the sake of it. At first I was fascinated by this alternative view of my ego’s insatiable ability to question and disbelieve, but after an hour or so it was becoming a horrible rant. Often there was little reason in the questions. They were questions for the sake of it. For a short while, my rationality had become irrational and I could not shut myself up.

Whenever I was able to let go for a second, my nausea subsided and I was presented with a myriad of spiralling colours and possible wormholes and intriguing places to explore, but as soon as my mind tried to reason with them or think about what they were, they receded to a black and white untuned-TV-signal and I would feel wretched with sickness again, often reaching for the bucket.

Such expulsions were often quite violent (and noisy) and thankfully followed by a brief respite, but watching from the sidelines as my ego battled with the plant was tough. I even drank more ayahuasca (no small undertaking in the state of my discomfort) in order to give the plant a better advantage to shut me up, but it was to no avail.

Luckily I did have some moments where my voice subsided for a moment and I could explore. These were revealing as well as being a blessed relief. At one time, I met the snake that I’d encountered earlier in the day. She asked me why my initial reaction had been to kill her: “What about me?” she asked. “If you leave me alone and don’t corner me or pester my kids, I’ll leave you alone too. We can get along fine if we respect each other.”

Such excursions were rare and at one stage I felt disappointed with the whole experience, thinking that it wasn’t working for me. I had been hoping to fly though the universe, meet dead people and explore my innermost consciousness.

But then it dawned on me that in actual fact my ayahuasca experience had worked perfectly well. Ayahuasca is not a recreational pastime but a medicine and a spiritual lesson, just as Percy had told me. And my lesson was clear. It was: Bruce - stop thinking you know better than everyone. Yes, you’ve had some great life experiences and you have a respectable insight to some subjects, but you’ve got to deflate that ego of yours, stop thinking of the clever riposte before the other person has even finished talking. Be in the moment and listen, yes listen to others. It’s not about being better than other people and establishing your place in some invisible hierarchy, it’s about sharing this worldly space with others. Occasional experiences are beyond rational thought. They cannot be explained. We live in difficult times and we are in danger of losing our connection to the natural world. Some answers will only come from listening and experiencing the world in its natural state.

It was very humbling and a perfectly timed lesson for my journey.


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