Wednesday, April 22, 2015

To Thine Own Self Be True

On every AA chip is inscribed this motto:

"To thine own self be true."

In 12 and a half years of attending meetings, I never once heard this as the topic. That always struck me as strange. Or perhaps the reverse is true: what's really peculiar is that the saying found its way into the program at all.

The rest of the program is decidedly hostile to the self. "Relieve me of the bondage of self," says the third step prayer. "Selfishness - self-centeredness! That, we think, is the root of our troubles," says the Big Book on page 62. Again on page 62, "...the alcoholic is an extreme example of self-will run riot..."

What could reconcile this seeming contradiction is more precise language, language that I have never encountered in the literature and only seldom in meetings. We must distinguish between the lower self, the addict self that brought us into the program to begin with, and the Higher Self, the manifestation of God within us.

Those of us who have struggled with addiction become painfully familiar with our lower selves. They get us loaded, make us act out shamefully, alienate friends and family, hurt our kids, lose our jobs, wind us up in hospital or jail. They demand more booze, more dope, more food, more sex, more attention, more glory, more possessions, more sympathy, more satisfaction. There is not enough of these things to satisfy them, ever. They transform us from balanced human beings into tyrants and gluttons and pariahs. Eventually they kill us.

The Higher Self is something different entirely. Before I drank ayahuasca, my awareness of mine was limited. I could gain access to him through prayer and meditation, playing music, connecting with loved ones, working the steps. But the connection was shaky and tenuous; the instructions I received were often unclear.

That changed when I drank the medicine. In contrast to many people, I do not usually receive visual data from other dimensions. I don't "hallucinate" (I find that word inaccurate, but it's a useful shorthand). Instead, my ayahuasca experiences tend to take the form of conversations with my Higher Self, conversations in which he gives me instruction and I try to take it all in. In my first few experiences with the medicine, this sensation of a dialogue was palpable. I had the feeling of a beam of light running through my body, aligning all the different parts of myself and putting me in touch with the God within, emanating from my crown chakra.

Sometimes his instruction has taken the form of a gentle prodding - a suggestion, a nudge, an intuition - "Have you thought of it this way before?" Sometimes it has felt more like a board across my head - "Quit doing this shit. Now."

Whatever form the instruction has taken, it has never been wrong. Not once. Whether or not I choose to follow it is another matter.

"To mine own self be true."

Not my lower self, my addict self, my broken self. There's not enough booze or dope or porn in the world to glue that guy back together. He was on his last legs before I went down to Peru last May. Ayahuasca has finished the job. She's been like a wrecking ball, obliterating his last vestiges and clearing the way for the full emergence of my Higher Self.

This process is, by turns, agonizing and frightful and glorious. Sometimes it is even serene. It is definitely effective, and it is definitely real. I cannot urge it on anyone; I can only relate my own experience. I hope that is helpful to you.

God bless you, whoever you are.

Friday, April 10, 2015


I am coming up on my year anniversary of working with the vine and the leaf. It is a bittersweet memorial. To reflect on what compelled me to go to Peru last year and take the plunge into medicine space is to reflect on one of the darkest times in my life, a time I very nearly didn't survive. But I also remember the hope I felt in approaching this new discipline, a hope that was not in vain.

I had a tremendous misunderstanding of many aspects of the undertaking I faced. How could I not? Such a transformative and alien experience does not lend itself to communication through language. But there is one practical aspect that should have been emphasized far more clearly by those in a position to do so - reintegration. As I understand it, reintegration is the process of taking the insights and clarification that are granted by the medicine and putting them into practice in one's "real" life.

It is a crucial component of the process of learning from ayahuasca. In fact, I believe it is the central component. And as a rule it is given woefully short shrift.

It's easy to see why. It's not the exciting, flashy part. No serpent visions or rides on spaceships or trips to the rainforest. And, to be cynical, The Ayahuasca Adventure Fun Center™ is not going to make a buck from it.

Instead, it is the plodding, often grueling, ultimately beautiful effort to reconcile one's newfound clarity and knowledge with day-to-day realities. Or, sometimes, to change one's day-to-day reality so that it aligns more closely with received vision.

Reintegration literally means "making whole again." What does this suggest? It suggests that we have been broken by the experience.

I know that I have been. But the deeper truth is that I was broken long before I drank my first cup of ayahuasca. By a process of ego compensation and [mal]adaptation, I had tricked myself into believing my life was balanced. Ayahuasca continues to reveal to me just how wrong I was. It's not an easy thing to examine.

But in my view it's the true substance of the whole process: negotiating the tension between the delusions we have embraced and the truth revealed to us by the Queen of the Forest; between the fate to which we have resigned ourselves and the destiny shown to us by the light of the Astral; between the trauma and heartbreak of our past and the love and connectedness available right here, right now.

A good friend and advanced practitioner expresses it like this: sitting in ceremony is putting the oar in the water; actually moving towards our destination is what happens between the strokes.

I have related that my fondest wish for ayahuasca was that she would magically transform my life, with only secondary effort from me. That has not been my experience of her at all.

Just how far that was from true was revealed to me only weeks after I returned home from Peru. I left the States unemployed and almost completely broke, with a daughter to support. My fantasy was to go to South America, do the work, receive the wisdom and divine power, then return home and promptly land my dream job.

Instead, two weeks after I was home I found myself working in June in Texas on a framing crew with some of the most degenerate drunks I'd ever had the misfortune to be around. One day one of them stole my lunch. And I was supposed to rely on these guys to safeguard my life 25 feet in the air above a concrete slab.

Fortunately, I guess, my time with that outfit was limited: I got a hernia 4 weeks into it. As I prepared to go in for surgery, hoping that somehow my Obamacare insurance wouldn't leave me utterly destitute, I raged at God: "How can you do this to me? I'm trying to know you, to do the right thing! Why are you punishing me?" I felt even more despondent than I had before I left.

The shock of having gone from my edenic, transformative experience at the workshop in the middle of the Amazon to this stark, brutal North American reality was almost more than I could bear or comprehend.

"This," I thought, "is not what the video testimonials promised."

And yet it seems to have been precisely what I needed. Through it, I reached a place of surrender and trust in God around work and money that has culminated in a complete transformation of that area of my life. I have never been as prosperous as I am today.

And yet.....

I find myself wondering if these things could not have been accomplished in a more gentle way. So many questions are raised by this. For instance:

1. What is the real efficacy of flying to a foreign country thousands of miles away, immersing oneself in a completely alien and bewilderingly powerful transformative experience, then returning home and trying to manage or adapt to or abruptly leave one's previous life, a life that has remained unchanged in one's absence? Is this even wise to attempt?

2. If indeed a radical break from one's day-to-day life is necessary, can there really be no more provision in it for reintegration at the ayahuasca center itself? What if these centers abandoned all profit motive? How much more fully could they facilitate their patients' healing?

3. When can we finally and completely abandon this "wicked and evil enterprise", as Graham Hancock puts it, this "War on Drugs"? It has crippled mainstream thought so utterly that most Americans cannot make a moral or practical distinction between ayahuasca and crack cocaine. The limitless possibilities that will present themselves! Ayahuasca centers in Northern New Mexico, or the Texas Hill Country, or the redwoods of California! Plant medicine communities flourishing in the light of day! Such a vastly increased scope of healing work!

4. Why must our society be so exploitive and cruel and barbaric and crass that returning to it after a spiritual awakening can feel like a death sentence?

This, to me, is the central question of all. Make no mistake: I do not see ayahuasca as some sort of lifestyle accoutrement for the affluent. She is a teacher, and she is the birthright of all humanity. I don't think it's any accident that she has appeared to teach so many at such a pivotal moment in the planet's history.

She is calling us to heal first ourselves and then the world. Nothing less can possibly do.

God bless you, whoever you are.