The first time I ever heard about Ayahuasca was in the front seat of a well-used mini-van meandering along a narrow gravel road through the Colca Canyon. It was 2008 and I was nearing the end of a three-week excursion exploring the tourist highlights of Peru. Somehow the group leader got into a conversation with me about his experience a few years earlier with this jungle brew, sparing no detail regarding the matter. Despite his gruelling accounts of being terrorized by demons, dragons, and mysteriously malicious creatures, his soft smile radiated a profound gratitude as he shared that it was one of the most powerful and cleansing experiences of his life! An intense sensation of excitement equally balanced with anxiety and fear swirled with what felt like the power of a hurricane in my stomach. Unbeknownst to me, the gentle hand of the cosmic gardener had planted the celestial seed in my heart and although it would take three years for that seed to finally sprout, it did so with a serendipitous sophistication that could only be orchestrated by the Divine itself.
Pisac was a place that found a place in my awareness because of a facilitator named Diego Palma. A few friends had sat with him and highly recommended his ayahuasca circles. As the world of plant medicine was very new to me, the personal accounts from people I trusted was a navigation tool tucked securely in my back pocket and it was confirmed in my heart that at some point in the future, my naive yet determined curiosity would have me seated in front of Diego, “copa” in hand, anxiously awaiting the wild ride about to unfold.
Given that no classes were scheduled during the month of December 2012, my request to take vacation from my role as a Leadership Development Trainer for an oil and gas servicing company to travel South America, was granted. This was 18 months following my initial cancer diagnosis and for all intents and purposes, I told myself that all was well. A lumpectomy in September 2011 had removed the cancer from my breast, additional scans indicated no metastasis, and six months prior to surgery researching and implementing wholistic healing approaches certainly provided a solid foundation for continued physical well-being. Life had basically returned to normal. Cancer was the last thing on my mind as I excitedly boarded the plane, destination Buenos Aires. Seated in the space vehicle ayahuasca, this four week exploration of Argentina, Chile, and Bolivia would be wonderfully completed in Pisac with a psychonaught expedition to the stars far vaster than what I would witness through the observatory telescopes at San Pedro de Atacama. Or…so I thought.
Within what felt like ten minutes of consuming the jungle brew ayahuasca, the false sense of peace and serenity generated by the coziness of the Melissa Wasi temple nestled at the base of the surrounding Apus (mountains) in Pisac and the extensive explanation offered by Diego in preparation for the circle, was mercilessly dissolved at the sight of a room-sized tarantula creeping slowly in my direction. What had I gotten myself into?!?! No amount of hypnotherapy to eliminate my debilitating fear of spiders (which I had done prior to my trip in 2008) could have prepared me for this! Although internally I screamed for this to stop - pleading that I had changed my mind - I was resistantly and mercilessly pulled down the rabbit hole. Suffocated by the awareness of repressed anger; scraped and bruised by the sharp edges of shame and guilt; and eaten alive by fear of losing myself completely, I gasped relentlessly for air between swells of bitter tasting vomit. Visions of obscure patterns, insects, and wild animals left me confused and disoriented. The only lifeline to the physical world was my desperate clutching to the bucket on my lap and the waves of sound from Diego’s distant voice.
Hours later exhausted and bleeding energetically from the recently exposed wounds, I lay quietly on my mat thankful the intensity of the experience had come to an end. Feeling tremendously raw and vulnerable, flashes of visions from the journey returned. In sophisticated animation, scenes of varying sexual interactions between men, women, animals, and entities appeared. “What is all this?” I recall feeling, stomach turning in disgust with each new freeze frame. One vision in particular was of a half naked man smugly smoking a rolled cigarette clearly satisfied with his sexual conquest. I knew this man, but it was terribly unsettling to see him in this way. Unaware of the significance in that moment, this vision was like a code - a secret access - to the locked door behind which was a level of deep pain and trauma that had been hidden away since the age of four or five. It was the key to profound healing only I was not yet ready to turn it and open the door.
Conversations were abuzz with speculation of the fallout from the end of the Mayan calendar just days before. December 21 was regarded as the end-date of a 5,126-year-long cycle with predictions of cataclysmic or otherwise transformative events. Although the physical world as humanity knew it didn’t come to an end, there was a very big part of me that was about to. The wool thread in my blanket that covered a delusional sense of reality and security had been torn thanks to Mother Ayahuasca. The warmth I had been accustomed to and comfortable in began to unravel, starting with a biopsy confirmation in January, three weeks following my return from Peru indicating that the cancer had “returned”. This time however, I had the inner knowing that it wasn’t the physical aspect that needed to be addressed; it was all the deep emotional wounding and accompanying beliefs that no thickness of blanket could cover up forever.