“It’s the Great Mother-Earth Spirit, Charlie Brown”: My First Ayahuasca Ceremony
"I don feel nossing, I don feel nossing.” The shaman mocks me with the tribe. With my family. I could recognize that everyone was laughing at/with me, because I was guffawing the whole time. I felt like I could melt very easily in the chilly 34 degree morning. I was in love with everyone, starting with my sister.
I had bunked down for the night — No! I’ll go a step further to say it was even a cozy sleep; As cozy as you can get in a wedding tent with one side of it hemorrhaging any heat that you had into the world of wind and rain — When the shaman came bustling in singing his mumbo jumbo song with the coda “thirrr-cuuuuuuuup! thirr-cuuuuuuup!” the friend that invited me, Douglas, jostled me, asking if I wouldn’t go up to the altar for the third cup. I shook my head, explaining quietly that the medicine still wasn’t working and that I just wanted to go to sleep. He said it’d be a shame if I came all this way for nothing. I thanked him half-heartedly for that reminder as I walked out of my cocoon for the third cup of Ayahuasca I’d had that night, the previous two glistening from the bottom of my puke bucket. With this the second night of the ceremony, I was a pro-puker at this point. What was one more spew?
Aside from the brew — now cold as hell — tasting terribly like sweet bile, I had no nausea. I sunk back into a comfortable sleep in my sub zero sleeping bag. I woke up soon after to the sound of Sebastian, one of three people to take the third cup with me, retching and suddenly remembered my guts. I grabbed my bucket and went to the port-a-johns as quickly as I could. Ayahuasca always has a period of purging, hopefully after the DMT molecules have been well absorbed into your bloodstream. Use of coffee, marijuana, or other psychoactive substances before a ceremony are known to stall the effects of Ayahuasca, sometimes causing a rocky journey or just nothing at all. I was beginning to worry that my own habits would render this ceremony null and void. Sitting in the port-a-john, my nausea became inflamed and I prayed for purging of any kind (less commonly, purging can come in the form of diarrhea). Unfortunately, only urine shot out of me. I decided to wait out my nausea at the dwindling fire. I was dying to puke, but it wouldn’t come up. Not without the shaman’s icaros: healing songs, some of which help you to purge.
Inexplicably, my mind turned to “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown,” specifically the scene where everyone has gone to the first house for “trix-or-treats”. Reconvening to compare notes, somebody exclaims “I got a candy bar!” Another - “I got a package of gum!” Charlie Brown: “I got a rock.” Well, I got a rock. It seemed to me that so many of the other 20+ people in the tent had explosive experiences. Confronting fear, dealing with sadness, experiencing ecstatic unity. Yet, here I was, sitting in the freezing cold as dawn was breaking on the last day, experiencing nausea and regret.
My only goal of tonight was to drink a cup whenever it was offered, as I had chickened out on the fourth cup the night before, despite still feeling nothing. Douglas continually urged me to speak up to the shaman that I wasn’t feeling the medicine. Shyness wasn’t my problem, though. It was the way the shaman remedied each successive cup that gave me apprehension. First, he gave me a big spoon of the concentrate. You had to scrape it off with your teeth. It was sticky as chewing a huge ping pong ball sized wad of bubble gum that’s been sitting on the underside of a subway railing for the entire month of January. He gave me this with an Ayahuasca chaser. I decided to be conservative with my complaining. The next time I told him I wasn’t feeling it, his remedy was what felt like a triple shot of the regular shot-glass sized cup we each received. Still, none of these drastic measures could make me feel the medicine. I didn’t even know what I was trying to feel. The shaman finally instructed me on this final glass to stop waiting for something to happen. Well then what am I doing here if I’m not waiting for something to happen, I thought, and went to sleep.
Right about now, as my depression surrounding the whole rock-end-of-the-deal conclusion of the ceremony was peaking, I decided that sleep was probably the best that I could hope for, so I scooted my knotted stomach and puke bucket back into the long dark tent, just beginning to blush with the rising sun, and settled under my massive sleeping bag.
I wrestled a blanket over my frozen face, feeling very sullen and bamboozled. As I settled into the configuration of blanket, sleeping bag and overcoat that would eventually become warm, I capitulated to my feelings of self-righteous anger towards being cheated. Who IS this “shaman” who wasn’t even sticking around to help me puke? — Nevermind that I had denied up until this point that his cricket-like chirping was even the real instigator of my purges. Just luck of timing, I’d brush it off. This guy was a fraud and everyone was in on it. Annie and Ackman, the hosts, were clearly putting on these huge shows with their roaring purges just to help sell it. Everyone else was a fool, waiting for things to happen, lying to themselves and exaggerating the effects of sleep deprivation (the ceremonies would start at approximately 11pm each night) into a “beautiful journey”. It was bullshit and an excuse to act as insane as you wanted to - crying in broad daylight, attracting attention and acting drunk or as though they’d been let in on some cosmic secret, cackling with unseen friends. The cows! Being herded into this delusion all too willingly. The Great Pumpkin wasn’t real. It was just Snoopy’s silhouette rising out of the field, and I was the outraged Sally.
I couldn’t begin to think of what I was in for.