I was driving to Amersham along the A40 today under shimmering Autumn skies and a South African lawyer chose ‘Jerusalem’ as one of his Desert Island Discs on the radio.
I heard one, maybe two bars of the chorus and choir and suddenly, out of nowhere, I was in floods of tears: sobbing, choking out the words, my voice broken with emotion.
There are other places.. But this is the nearest, in place and time, Now and in England.
I’ve been back from Brazil for four days. It’s been almost a month since I drank ayahuasca.
I haven’t really written so much here about ayahuasca the last few times I’ve been. The things I’ve experienced there in the visions have been so personal and so intimately woven into my childhood and family that it didn’t seem so suitable for a blog. But this last visit to Brazil was so wonderful, so profound. I feel like writing about it.
I was away for a month this year. A whole month of Brazil in all its beautiful moods.
But the beginning of October was a week of ayahuasca in Bahia with Silvia. There were ten of us, a nice mix of Americans and British, all hungry from our sugar and salt fast. All nervous. My friend Will and I flew in with an air taxi to arrive 2 hours before the first session. I’ve done it loads of times now but still I get wretched with nerves before drinking.
Silvia makes people drink the brew three times over a week. There’s a day rest in between each session. And each session can be completely different. And the important thing to bear in mind is that the effects build up over the week. It’s a tri-partite lesson.
For me, often (though never always: the Plant is notoriously tricksterish) the pattern is as follows: the first session is difficult, I fail to negotiate it properly and spend a lot of time wishing it were over and telling myself that I’ll never do it again. Ie. I fight.
The second is very often, transcendently beautiful. I am swept away into a place of utter love: surrounded my friends and family and understanding them perfectly and aching with love for them. In this blissful state, I feel like I am being tanked up with grace. Learning over and over, how beautiful the universe is and how beautiful I am. Never forget this, I tell myself again and again. Never forget it. Let it light up my cells from the inside.
But increasingly, it is the third – difficult and challenging – session that teaches me what I need to learn.
I suppose the last couple of years in Brazil have been about travelling back to my childhood and seeing the events that programmed my life a certain way. They say it’s like doing eight years’ therapy in eight hours. There were heart-shaking sessions where I sobbed at mistaken views I’d adopted as a little boy – blindly making sense of my sexuality – and which had effected my life ever since.
One of the great wonder of ayahuasca is that you can access all your memories. Nothing you’ve experienced in your life is lost. Not one second of your life – consciously or unconsciously lived. Every colour, smell and texture is there recorded in your mind. Everything can be accessed and re-experienced. You can swoop back to one afternoon when you were six and lying on your candlewick bedspread in the sunshine and thinking a sad thought that went on to colour your whole life.
This is extraordinary enough – but for me the real wonder is to then see that the past is not fixed.
This sounds a little odd, but I realized that the past is not linear, not forever frozen and unchangeable. Rather than being a line stretching back horizontally, personal time is a column, layering vertically, down below the present. It’s like a shifting column of different coloured fluids. One floating on top of the other. And when you change one layer at the bottom all the layers shift and change colour above.
In ayahuasca visions you can go back to the past and you can re-live it. Correct it. So, in previous sessions (in April 2006) I was able to go back to my little 6-year-old self and tell him that the world didn’t hate him, that he didn’t have to survive all on his own, that on the contrary his sexuality was a delight, a joy and he would be happy. In fact I spent so much time telling my 6-year-old self this that he eventually smiled told me not to worry so much – and went off to play.
The rest of 2006 – my life back in London as a 36-year-old – was enlightened by that insight. The column of liquid time shifted and lightened and I lived more easily. I loved more easily and felt at home in a friendly world.
The third session this year was even more profound. I was able to go back to the moment just after birth and feel what it was like to be newly born, gasping, dazzled, terrified. And again, with effort and what seemed like titanic struggle, I was able to relive that experience and instead of being born into terror and resentment, to be born into excitement and delight.
Silvia plays music through the sessions. She’s a brilliantly intuitive DJ, giving you just the energy and the sustenance you need, to push you on or to inspire. While I was fighting to be reborn she played the most terrifying, ear-splitting, endless, endless shamanic rattling. And then directly afterwards, an exquiste female singer chanting the namaste blessing over and over, into the night. I could imagine myself embracing my mother who was embracing me, newly born
I can’t adequately explain all the details of that extraordinary night but the cascade of little liberations and insights that have showered down over the subsequent days and weeks is dizzying. Not least because, a week after finishing the ayahuasca course, my parents came out to stay with me in Brazil for a fortnight.
Being swept away in the ocean of universal love etc. is all very easy when you’re under the influence of powerful plant hallucinogens – but the real lessons come in real life. I wouldn’t be interested in this if it were just the pretty visions and nothing else. No, the really delightful thing about ayahuasca is that it changes the real world not just the dream world.
It was the most inspired lesson from the Universe. After all my insights during the sessions about my childhood and my relationship to my parents and their childhoods, suddenly here I was in Brazil with my sixty-plus Mum and Dad who speak no Portuguese and who (unfortunately) had their money and cards stolen on the beach. In effect, I became their parent for the duration – and we all learned loads. I love them so much for throwing themselves into the trip and there were a thousand moments when I recognised stuff about myself watching them.
I can’t say what all the ramifications of the sessions at the start of October will be. All I know is that I’m feeling more happy and content in the world than I have previously and life feels a lot easier.
And I have to say a big thank you to Brazil, to Silvia and to meu filho, meu irmão Leo, who was the midwife of so many insights in Brazil. Not least the very Brazilian truth that life is an invention anyway, so invent it full of joy and happiness, not full of misery and hatred.