The Ceremonies are TOUGH

I went into the last ceremony pretty clean and was vomiting well into the next morning. The vomiting isn’t the hard part though–it’s actually somewhat of a relief. What’s hard is the dark, scary thoughts/attitudes/emotions that cause the vomiting.

The ayahuasca has this interesting ability to connect the vomit reflex with negative thinking. It would be really funny if everyone experienced this during normal consciousness. Gossip about someone at work….BLAH! Indulge in worry about the kids…..BLAH! Ruminate about how someone did you wrong…..BLAH!

I’ve heard of some people vomiting every week, twice a week for two years, before they finally got all (or enough) of their negative thinking/attitudes out to stop the vomiting. It’s not all bad though, pretty much for the next day or two I feel light and good (though negativity still comes up and needs to be processed).

I wonder if ayahuasca is something like the spiritual equivalent of a controlled back fire. When there’s a raging, out of control forest fire, the firefighters commonly lights other parts of the forest on fire in order deplete the  oncoming larger fire of fuel. When we vomit, and experience all the negative thoughts and emotions in ceremony, perhaps we are depleting some larger dysfunction of energy. Maybe.

There’s so much going on in a ceremony that it’s really hard to find a satisfying metaphor.

It could also simply be that, in ceremony, we are seeing how our negativity works out. And during that time, we are both learning a better way and healing. The ceremony could be thought of a controlled space, a laboratory perhaps, where we can experience and work out our crap, so we have less to deal with or process in real life.

It seems true that there really is a teaching spirit. It doesn’t talk (to me at least). It’s quite subtle, but there’s a recognisable pattern emerging from the experience. And this pattern, many people report (and I can confirm), leads us through our dysfunctions/traumas/negativity eventually to something more life affirming, healing and mature.

But again, the ceremonies and the Ayahuasca experience resists all metaphors, characterisations, categorisations. Everything I say about it feels incomplete. The ceremonies are often profound, new information comes, new insights, beliefs change, depression/anxiety/addiction of all kinds lessen or disappear. And it all seems to happen through actual experience, so, in the end, I think it doesn’t really matter what we believe about it. Whether it’s brain chemicals, spirits, or both, it just may not matter.

It doesn’t mean that if someone’s an ass before the ceremony. he/she won’t still be one afterward. Very few people, none that I know of, come out of a ceremony changed into Mother Theresa. If anything, we come out the ceremony with much homework. We come out with a vision of and push toward a much healthier, happier, more meaningful and connected life. But there’s a lot of hard work between here and there. I can personally confirm what someone else said, “Ayahuasca doesn’t make you a better person. It makes you desperately want to be a better person.”

And that description too, is incomplete.

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Shamanism: Your Life is Your Prayer

I’ve been learning shamanism for awhile now and if there’s one thing that’s true about it, it’s a form of prayer.

Shamanism is prayer. It’s almost nothing but techniques about prayer (and praying with power). There’s no way to separate the two. But, of extreme importance is the recognition that our whole life is, in fact, prayer.

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Everything we think, say and do. Every attitude, in every circumstance and the intention behind all of it IS our prayer. We are constantly casting our prayer (thoughts, words, actions, attitudes, and their intentions), consciously or unconsciously, at people, at our family, at ourselves, and into the world. And God is always answering. God is always bringing it into reality for us, whether we like it or not.

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We may think our prayers are only those special times at church or at home, when we submit our petitions to our Creator. That’s prayer too! But weigh that against what we “ask” during the other 99% of our lives. We may ask for happiness, health, and abundance, for ourselves and for others, but our day-to-day thoughts, words, actions, and especially our unconscious intentions, tell us what we are really “asking” for. And these things may directly contradict!

Our prayer is really in our heart (where our intention is), not our mind. In our mind, we may want something, and we may ask for it. But, if we slow down and pay attention to what’s really going on inside, we may see that our heart wants something totally different.

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When I am in ceremony with Ayahuasca, it becomes embarrassingly obvious that what I thought I wanted/needed and what I really wanted/needed are not the same. Before the ceremony, I have some kind of healing in mind or pressing issue that I want to resolve. During in the ceremony however, it becomes plainly apparent there are deeper matters that need attention. Often I wasn’t even thinking about these. And this happens a lot!

Shamanic technique of all kinds (every religion and spiritual tradition has these techniques), not just Ayahuasca ceremonies, are good at guiding/forcing us into our heart, where we can see what’s really going on. These techniques reliably guide us into a space where we see what our real prayer is, and though we often won’t like it (because we see that our intention is not helpful or loving), we have a chance to change it.

So, we need to ask ourselves, “what are we really praying for?”

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When we worry, that is prayer. When we gossip, that is prayer. When we yell at or shame a loved one, that is prayer. When we eat poorly and don’t take care of our bodies, that too is prayer! (FYI–These kinds of prayers are essentially curses. God allows them to manifest. They carry energy and do harm.)

How do we make sure our prayers are helpful, healing, and in the loving interest of everyone? That’ll be the subject of another post!

 

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Quick Update: We Are in Peru

Felt like I needed to do a quick update here. I’ve once again let the blog go too long without working on it. I write a lot, but I’m usually not too happy with it. I’ve decided to try and just post what I’ve got without too much thought or editing. That’s hard for me. It’s an area I want to grow in, so stay tuned for more posts.

The last 6 months we were in Mexico, up until a couple weeks ago and that was really great. I really felt a kinship there and I have a new spiritual family from San Miguel de Allende. I did 4 Temazcals (sweat lodges), suffered panic attacks in the first one, resolved them in the second, and then shared the fourth with my wife and kids (baby included).

I also was lucky enough to do both my first Peyote and Ayahuasca ceremonies. Both were great. Hard work, but great. I may write about these later.

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Ayahuasca Group Photo
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Ayahuasca Shaman from Brazil (Guarani Tribe)
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I had wanted to go to Huatla de Jimenez, where the Mazatac (mushroom using) indigenous communities are, but the logistics and costs didn’t really work out. I’m really pretty sad about that because the mushrooms really have become a teacher of mine. I consider them a friend and ally. They helped me work out some deep fears and introduced me into much broader and mysterious view of the Universe, in a very visceral way. The work of integrating their teachings continues, now here in Peru.

In Mexico, I experience no culture shock. Though I felt like a gringo foreigner, it was close enough to the people and culture of the Central Valley California, that I felt somewhat at ease, almost at home. In Peru however, I was culture shocked. This place is different.

Much of the conveniences of Mexico are not here (or not easy to get). Few panaderia’s (bakeries), no cheap water delivery, no fast/reliable internet, transportation is more difficult, and many common Spanish words are different (It’s not “aqua,” but “aqa.”). They call their language Castallano (at least in the ATM’s), not Spanish. I think it’s closer to Spain Spanish.

Anyway, what Peru has going for it (among other things) is that the food is good, it’s very beautiful, and shamanic (including entheogenic) culture is accepted and protected.

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We’re settled in a pretty nice house, by western standards, on a trail that runs up into the Andes. There are little creeks/aqueducts and the sound of running water everywhere. It’s very Zen-like, Latin America style. Or actually, I think probably more like what the Hobbit or Lord of the Rings would be if they were set in Latin America. It’s beautiful and mystical.

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Okay, I could write more, but should shut it down.

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Documentary: Psychedelia

I’ve been falling behind in watching all the new documentaries about psychedelics. Mostly because I find that the same stuff is repeated over and over. (And because I’ve fallen into an unhealthy malaise regarding my shamanic and entheogenic practice, but that’s another post/story). In recent documentaries, there’s not much new in terms of ideas, stories or themes covered. But, because I was bored the other night, I decided to watch a new one called Psychedelia. I’m grateful I did. It reminded me again just how important and powerful these substances (and associated ideas, stories and themes) are. How their potential for deep, psychological healing is huge. And how they’ve been used for such things going back into antiquity and earlier. It’s true that there’s not really any new territory covered in this documentary. I, however, need to hear some things over and over.

As documentaries about psychedelics go, I think this is a more even handed one. I think it’s kinda dry actually. It’s not as sensationalistic or hyperbolic as some documentaries can be. It doesn’t claim that psychedelic drugs will solve all your problems. It’s mostly a collection of talking experts, covering the history and healing potential of the usual psychedelic substances (LSD, Psylocybin (mushrooms), Ayahuasca, and Mescaline (Peyote). They spend much time discussing how these substances often induce clinically accepted definitions of mystical experience (sense of completeness or wholeness, sense of connection to God, or the Universe, or all things, sense of experiencing our true selves, ineffability, etc).

The documentary ends with a powerful account from a woman suffering from the extreme anxiety brought on by terminal cancer. She describes her own healing/mystical experience after participating in a psilocybin study at NYU. I found her explanation of the experience to be a good one regarding all psychedelics. Liberally paraphrasing her description: The experience helps recast problems into something bigger. They help us see our lives from a larger perspective, where we see what’s truly important. This shift in perspective alone can sometimes be powerful enough to end negative patterns of thought and emotion. Even if our negative patterns don’t end there (as many certainly won’t), in terms of our daily lives (or everyday consciousness) we gain a strong push toward ending problem patterns and cultivating healthier ones.

Let me add, finally, from my own personal experience, that these things ARE powerful enough to upend addiction of any kind. It may (and likely will) require repeated experiences and outside recovery/healing work. But I think for most people, the mystical experience and insight that comes from psychedelic substances is the missing key in recovery, healing and personal growth.

Check it out:

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Long Term Sobriety and “White-Knuckling”

It feels strange writing about my past acting out/sex addiction. It seems a little forced because it feels behind me. Five or six years ago, and especially before I did Ibogaine, I couldn’t have envisioned myself as free as I am now. I was so entrenched in the addiction, and had been for long (2.5 decades), that it was extremely difficult to see how life could be different. Now take my “sobriety” mostly for granted, which is a nice place to be. I still have a lot of healing work to do. Some of the drivers of addiction are still there. But thank God, for the most part, my life of acting out is behind me.

I say “for the most part” because I respect the fact that things can change. I understand that if I am dumb and don’t take care of myself, and don’t keep making healthy decisions (or at least make more healthy decisions than unhealthy ones), I could end up right back where I was. It’s not as if porn doesn’t carry any attraction. It does. I just choose not to go there any more. And the longer I’ve stayed away, the less the cravings and temptations have become. Thankfully, now, the cravings rarely hit me. I can go months now with no craving. In fact, I honestly don’t really remember when my last strong craving was.

Just to be clear, however, it’s not as if I never want to “act out”. It’s just more at the level of something like ice-cream or cake. I know I shouldn’t eat sugar. It’s addictive and unhealthy for me. Sometimes I think “oh, it would be really nice to eat that.” But because my sugar addiction is basically broken, it’s more like an intermittent longing. It’s never a strong craving. Only if I eat sugar do I crave sugar. It’s the same for porn and acting out now. Sometimes I long for it. I think my brain/will is no longer hijacked as easily as it was before. So, it’s easier to stay out of the addiction.

For the first 3 or 4 years after Ibogaine, the longing or cravings were much stronger and more frequent than now (thankfully, they were never as intense as before I did Ibogaine–but don’t get me wrong, after the Ibogaine is out of the body, the desire to act out can be quite strong. So expect that, if you do Ibogaine). To survive, I “white-knuckled” a lot. Pretty much everyone in recovery groups hears that white-knuckling is a bad thing. I agree that it’s not ideal and not sustainable over the long term. But, early in recovery, you gotta do what you gotta do. Or, at least, that’s how I thought about it. I believe white-knuckling is hard to avoid early in recovery because we just don’t know any better. And we are not yet well-practiced at reacting to our cravings (or any compulsion) with self-compassion and connection to Spirit (or Higher Power or whatever). Our connection to our Spirit just isn’t strong yet. Now, thankfully, if I feel I’m white-knuckling, I know that something is off in my attitude or consciousness. I know that I need to slow down, feel into my suffering, and open up learning from Spirit. Doing this is actually not that hard for me when I feel the pull of acting out. It’s harder for me other areas of my life: shame, depression, anxiety, and family issues. I’m slowing working to bring my new consciousness into these areas as well.

If you are seeking recovery and are unable to call up these positive attitudes and emotions toward yourself, I implore you to start learning. Don’t wait to learn until you have sobriety. And don’t give up if you feel it’s not working. The positive skills you learn while you are acting out will help you when you finally stop, in all painful areas of life. The skills of self-compassion and being open to learning from a Spirit (or God, or the Universe, or Higher Power, or whatever) are huge. As far as I can tell, there is no real, long term, healing without them. At least not in my experience.

If you don’t already have a practice where you are learning these skills, you might try Inner Bonding as taught by Dr. Margaret Paul (this plug for her is unsolicited). I’ve worked with many different modalities (mediation, prayer, recovery groups, counselling, and more) and her program is a kind of distillation of the best of them all. They way to healing is clear. It just takes practice. And although it requires practice, the positive effect are usually felt pretty early on.

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A Lull in Shamanic Practice, but the Mushrooms are Coming

Not much is going on in my quest to explore shamanism in Mexico. Polina and I finally feel settled, more or less. We’re really grateful for that. We finally have some free time, which is massively important for our well-being. I have more time to blog. I’m enrolled in a drawing class and studying spanish on my own time. We also spend a fair amount of time devising and working on ways to increase our income. What we have now allows us to travel and live in less expensive countries, but we’d like to have a second, even if small, source of income. This would grant us a bit more financial safety and hopefully, eventually, allow us to travel in Europe or other more expensive places. We have 2 or 3 projects in the pipeline and more ideas than we have time for.

All of this takes time. And similar to my blogging commitment (mentioned in my previous post), it’s now quite obvious that I need to be disciplined about making (and holding) time to explore and practice shamanism. And do it daily. Seems like really obvious stuff. But for some reason, I need to be reminded over and over.

So, that said, I plan to engage in some small way, on a daily basis, in the skills or disciplines of being and knowing that are more directly considered “shamanic”. I’m not sure what I’m going to do yet, at least while we’re here in San Miguel de Allende. I may just commit to reading a book or two. I’m sure there are plenty of currandero’s around here who would love to help. I, however, have no desire to go out of my way to seek them out and start a relationship that feels contrived or forced. It has to happen naturally, probably over time. I’ve already had two negative experience with a couple different shamans, that I tried to engage with more or less without knowing. Nothing dramatic or bad happened—No gods or demons invoked (that I know of!). They were just ego-centric. One was a narcissist. The other was clearly in it for the money. I escaped those relationships pretty quickly, but not without a little drama.

Despite the lull, I know there are big things coming: Around February or March of next year (2015), we’ll be heading to Huatla de Jimenez where I plan to work with a Mazatec shaman (possibly a few) and eat magic mushrooms.

For those who don’t yet know, Huatla de Jimenez was one of the forces behind the 60’s psychedelic movement. In 1955 a banker named R. Gordon Wasson followed rumours about some sort of divine mushroom used for healing and spiritual purposes. He went there, ate the mushrooms and had a powerful experience. Two years later, in 1957, his article about the whole adventure appeared in Life magazine (You can read the original article here or here. The town became famous over night and was pretty quickly overrun by celebrities, hippies and beatniks, who caused havoc and were more or less distrusted and extremely disliked by the Mazatec inhabitants. Up until Wasson’s article, psychedelic or magic mushrooms were unknown in the Western world.

The town, from my research, has calmed down since then. Foreigners are more or less welcomed (because they have money). Hippies still show up, but now it’s mostly middle class seekers both from Mexico and abroad. It seems most people are seeking healing, spiritual connection, or are curious about the experience.

I am going because I consider the mushrooms themselves to be a teacher and healer. After a few experiences with them, I noticed patterns of information that seemed to come from outside myself (or at least my normal waking consciousness). The mushrooms seemed to be trying to help me understand why I often hurt myself with negative thought patterns and behaviour. I’ve experienced them multiple times and it was uncanny how, every time, they would lead me through a kind of teaching experience. It was always a hard experience, but as I often told my wife, always worth it.

After those experiences, I knew what “tough love” really meant. The mushrooms are like parents, demanding the best from their children, not putting up with any exudes. But never abusive, condescending or shaming. They seem to bring a lot of tough love, but a lot of humor as well.

Although I can eat them anywhere, I consider it is an honour to able to learn from people who have used them for many 100’s of years. Thankfully I already have a couple contacts. A couple of Mazatec curandera’s that are highly regarded in the shamanic and entheogenic community worldwide. I plan to learn what I can there and post about the experiences.

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Writing (and Posting) is Hard

Posting regularly, or even at all, is proving to be pretty tough for me. I’ve been quite discouraged about it actually. I thought I could be committed to this blog, but now I see that such a commitment is not easy to keep, even after spending 5 years believing I should do this. I don’t know for sure what’s blocking me. I think it’a just a lot of fear of putting myself out there. It’s that, and I carry a lot of judgement toward my own writing.

When I write, many things seem to happen: my idea of my audience shifts, I feel like I’m presenting myself as an authority, my writing seems too self-indulgent, or I just plain think my writing sucks. Add to that the fact that I have a hundred other interests and 2 small kids pulling at me. Still, despite the distractions, the idea of blogging about shamanism still carries weight for me. I feel like I want it and that I should do it. I’m convinced that my writing problems are self-induced, all my “issues” above are just excuses.

So, remembering that pretty much every spiritual tradition on the planet teaches that we should just do the work we’ve committed ourselves to and leave the results up to God (or the Universe (or diety of your choice)), I am re-doubling my commitment to the writing and making it a priority, no matter how shitty it turns out.

This is more of a commitment to myself. It’s part of my personal effort (and our family effort) to stop living lives we are not happy with. Polina and I don’t want to teach our children to take on the 9-to-5 drudgery that we learned. This blog is something I need to make sure I’ve given best to, at least for a time. When I’ve done that, and if it still hasn’t worked out, then I’ll be happy to let blogging go. For now, for me, since this might be the path that the Universe is supporting. I want to make sure I do my part. And I want to see how the Universe kicks in, if it will. Stay tuned…

For those of you who read this, what path might be in your highest good that you need to recommit to? What’s stopping you? Or, do you even know what it is? If you do know, do you find it easy to get pulled away?

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The Mundane and the Cosmic: 2 Cool Video’s

We are back in Mexico and an update is forthcoming. For now, I’m trying to get back on the posting path with something easy. Below are a couple video’s fitting into the “art” category of this site. The first video is mundane, the other cosmic. Both are well worth watching and are best viewed with full screen in HD.

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How the Wilderness Affects a 1 and 3 Year Old… and Me

We had to come back to California in a haste to work on our house, the one we’ve rented out and which supports our travel. This is exactly what we didn’t want: The extra expense of plane tickets and living in the US. It drains our funds. But the work is done and our tenant is happy, so everything’s good now.

Since we had to come to California and since my mom lives in the Sierra’s, we decided to explore the mountains and go backpacking and….. ahem…. take the kids.
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We probably didn’t possess our full faculties when we made that decision, but our first trip went remarkably well. In the mountains, we noticed immediately that both our kids whined and complained a lot less, or even not at all unless hungry. Something about the forest engaged them both, 1 and the 3 year old alike. They were more content and grounded.

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When at home, either in Mexico or in California, they whine and pester us ALL THE TIME. Sierra screams at varying volumes every 5 minutes, not because she’s hurt or hungry, but because she’s bored. Cartoons don’t anaesthetise her yet, so Polina and I are her primary (and desperate) entertainers. Every 10 minutes Claire harangues us for something containing sugar or cartoons or both. Polina and I can deal with whininess and neediness to some degree. If it goes on too long, we start seeing our kids as leeches or energy vampires.

Out on the trail, we plop Sierra down in the dirt and let her go. She becomes the little explorer that she’s meant to be. Everything is newly discovered every time we put her down: leaves, pine-needles, sticks, rocks. After a couple minutes on the ground, she’s happily wearing the colors of the forest.

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Claire too becomes a different person. It seems to not even occur to her to ask for something sweet or any sort of screen (TV, tablet, etc.). She knows we don’t have those things so of course she knows not to ask, but gone is the fidgety neediness. No bouncing off the walls at pains for something fun to do She’s calm and happy to be the woods.

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The wilderness affects me in a similar way. At the time we went into the mountains, I was seemingly locked into an unhealthy mental pattern of trying figure out my next “career” or money-making move. I am usually torn between what feels like my calling (like shamanism and writing) but brings zero money and some other, more lucrative, work. This is a long-running and oft repeating thought cycle for me.

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I noticed immediately that the forest doesn’t give a shit about my problems. It dispassionately carries on in some deeper order not fully open to me. While there, I feel something deeper, but I only stand on the edge. I long to connect with it, because I feel its big-ness and stability, but the chatter in head excludes me most of the time. I am looking through the fog. My mind feels like a ceaselessly rattling tin can, or a blown speaker: all treble and no base, all surface and no depth. I feel the bass better in the mountains, but it’s fleeting. My ego/mind can’t stand the burden of silence and habitually drowns it out. Some people are naturally quiet or are more practiced at internal silence. They more easily make this connection with nature. I’m not completely deaf and I have my own mystical moments, but need more practice.

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Escaping the corporate world has reduced my stress level, which is great, but there’s still plenty of dysfunction in my head. I’m grateful to have the wilderness as ally in healing.

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Ibogaine: The Nuclear Option

There are many people at their wits end, trying to stop acting out their addiction or some other intractable pattern of thought or behaviour. I have vivid memories of sitting in recovery groups and watching exasperated, desperate people who, as far as I could tell, genuinely wanted healing. Many of them, including myself, had been trying for years to stop their destructive behaviour, but just couldn’t quite get there. These are people who, like me, spent countless hours working 12 steps groups and many other recovery/healing programs. I’m hoping some of them will find these pages and, in so doing, find an option that they had never considered.
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It’s not often that someone suggests using a hallucinogenic plant for dealing with personal issues. If I had known a few years ago how impassioned about this topic I’d be, I might have wondered (as perhaps many of my friends and family might now) what demon (or brain imbalance) had possessed me. Well I’m not possessed! I promise!

Despite the fact that social consensus sits squarely against this option, if you find yourself “possessed” enough to consider Ibogaine, you have thousands of years of worldwide healing tradition on your side. Ibogaine and many plants very similar to it have a long history of producing positive outcomes. In Gabon, one of the west African countries that Ibogaine comes from, it has been declared a national treasure. Tribes within and around Gabon use it to promote spiritual growth, stabilise families and communities, and aid physical and psychospiritual healing. The current negative social consensus is mostly western, relatively new (relative in terms of the age of shamanic cultures), and based in ignorance and fear.

As far as addiction treatment modalities go, Ibogaine is the nuclear option. (Okay. Calling it “nuclear” maybe be overstating it, but it’s hard to find an adequate metaphor.) When some stuck behaviour or thought pattern needs to be unseated, Ibogaine is in its own class. Some have described the experience as akin to 10 years of psychotherapy in one night. While I think the psychospiritual dynamics in question are more complicated than that, I definitely understand the sentiment.

For many of us, the Ibogaine experience stands on the level of a major life event, on par with the birth or death of a loved one. It compels us to re-order priorities. It pulls the crap off of our stuck internal compass, so that the needle reorients to what’s truly important. It helps people get unstuck and move on with their lives. A common feeling after the treatment is one of being given a second chance. Because of it’s ability to significantly weaken craving or compulsion to the substance or behaviour of attachment, the feeling has substance behind it.

That said, despite it’s powerful and near miraculous nature, it’s not a magic bullet and it usually won’t stop an addiction (or other emotional issue) permanently. It doesn’t remove free will. It gives powerful insight and, for many of us, a cosmic kick in the ass. The actual work of long-term healing is left to us. We have to make the daily effort to build better patterns. This is why all the recovery groups and other healing modalities are still important. Ibogaine seems to open up a window of freedom. We have to fill that window with something positive, and do so before it closes.

In conclusion, although I don’t plan this blog to be about Ibogaine or addiction per say, I hope to convey in the next few posts my experience of both. I’m hoping these posts will act as a record of my experience for others to find (if Google does it’s job). I will do my best to share the bad, along with the good.

Please chime in with questions or comments. The discussion both drives search rankings and gives me a chance to clarify things (or be corrected).

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