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January notes on ayahuasca


It’s now a bright, steely white-blue January in London – 3 months distant from the tropical colours and hummingbird intensity of Bahia – but the effects of the Ayahuasca I took out in the jungle are definitely still here. In the flow of weeks and months that have happened since coming home, so many little things have shifted, little insights fallen into place, things become clear. It’s hard to pin-point any one big transformation. Gradually, as the new becomes old, then you forget what the old was like. I can barely remember my pre-Ayahuasca state.

But there’s no doubt in my mind that I have changed. And that those changes are quite marked. Perhaps I should list a few:

1) Less fear. One of the strongest lessons of that extraordinary second trip on Ayahuasca was that fear was an optional extra. For years I’d lived with a faint miasma of fear and insecurity which hovered over and sometimes swamped my brain. Somehow the Plant dislodged it. Not permanently. There are definitely situations in a human life where fear happens – but it came to me very strongly that fear is neither necessary nor permanent. You can survive – indeed you can flourish – as a fully functioning human without it.

Since I’ve come back I’ve had episodes of fear and insecurity and patches of self-disgust – but I’ve been quite clear in my head that this is temporary stuff, clouds in an othewise clear sky. My day-to-day living has been much less clouded, more stable and fearless. This has been most evident in my relations with other people. Whereas before I was shy and often very reserved and superior, now I find myself able to talk to just about anyone with a very relaxed and friendly openness. This alone is a fabulous gift.

2) Re-evaluation of Buddhism: For 5 years, Buddhism was the guiding framework around my spiritual life. I visited Buddhist monasteries, learnt how to meditate, did several hard-core meditation retreats, really beefed up my mental control. But even before I went to Brazil, I was getting strong signals that this path was becoming too severe. Instead of liberating me it was simply usurping one set of mental constraints with another more subtle set. Watching all my beliefs swept away that night in Bahia was terrifying. I was aghast at seeing my beloved and beneficial Buddhism blown out of the water. But as the Zen and Tibetan Buddhists know – real Buddhism is indestructable. Whatever gets swept out of the water is just flotsam – the ocean remains untouched and expansive.

A friend bought me a book by the renegade Tibetan lama Chögyam Trungpa. I’d always been a bit suspicious of his crazy wisdom. It offended my rather doctrinaire and purist tastes. But post-jungle, Trungpa is a revelation.

He has had much to say about one of big points of contention between my experience on Ayahuasca and my Buddhist beliefs: the beauty of experience. All my life,, I’d always instinctively looked for a philosphy which approved of the beauty of being alive, of smelling figs, of seeing birds in flight, thinking about things, feeling happiness, listening to Mahler. There is a strong vein of Buddhism which looks at all these things as dangerous diversions from the peace of nibbana. Ayahuasca, however, seemed to insist on the paramount importance of connecting to that vast and dizzying profusion of life energy eveywhere, inside and outside my experience. Trungpa’s writings offers an understanding of Buddhism that also connects. He is very iconoclastic of traditional Buddhisms. And ayahuasca is a vivid iconoclast too.

3) Intuition: This is an area where its extremely difficult to be very empirical about what’s changed since intuition and the heart are hard to measure. But one of the most pervasive effects of Ayahuasca has been a re-ignition of my intuitive and creative brain. To put it more bluntly, it gave a massive thumbs up to my instincts.

As a child I was always creating little fantasy worlds, illusionary works of art, following my butterfly interests. Years of “education”, socialization and self-censoring led me to check and edit, doubt and discredit my thoughts, my aesthetic choices, my sense of play. After ayahuasca I came back to the giddy liberation of saying “yes” to what I was feeling. Realising that what my heart felt was 100% valid. If I read a poem and it stuck it was a good poem. If I followed a flock of pigeons flying with my eyes and my heart dilated it was good. If I said the first thing that came into my heart when consoling a broken-hearted friend then it was the right thing to say. Some days it feels like I’m walking round with my eyes in my heart not my head. Seeing things first on an emotional, instinctual level and a mental one later… The world is absolutely the same but my perception has changed considerably.

4) My Sex Life: a hefty chunk of my Ayahuasca experience had to do with sex. For a lot of people back in the UK the more ecstatic, “cosmic” episodes of the trips are quite off-putting. When you’re sitting at home in London, just back from work, someone else ‘s breathless account of their union with the cosmos just sounds like dippy-hippy horse-shit. Someone else’s sexual bliss is even more off-putting. Nonetheless, the sexual element was essential. So I’m afraid I’m going to have to go there.

Growing up as a gay man in the world, I think you ingest a lot of invisible self hatred which conditions your sexual self-worth. Which probably explains why many gay men are so promiscuous or fearful of intimacy. Although I was always “out” I was clearly not very comfortable with the nuts and bolts of gay sexuality. The vivid sexual revelation I had on Ayahuasca swept all that away. It was a full-on experience of sex without shame, guilt, difficulty. Just connection. Consequently my sexual energy is much simpler now. Much more playful, less ashamed of itself, more confident. And in these gloomy homogenous days, where an American President can get to White House by riding on the back of homophobic paranoia then being more confidently gay is wonderful. And necessary.

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