Thursday, May 19, 2016

The Choice of the Medicine Drinker

The overwhelming force of the ayahuasca experience presents us with a pretty simple choice. On the one hand, we can surrender to it, opening ourselves up to the full meaning of the word "entheogen" - having Divine Presence enter every level of our being and remove every obstacle to its path in the process. On the other, we can learn to manage it.

"You shall know the tree by its fruit."

It's pretty obvious when we meet people who've chosen the former path - they have a sweetness and a light that is unmistakable. The word gets thrown about in a trite and abominable way, but in this case it's true - they are childlike. They are innocent of the crimes of this world. They are beautiful on the inside, whatever their outsides look like.

The second category can be a bit trickier. The managers of the ayahuasca experience often have a pretty good rap. It's a part of their management. They can sound good. But their actions are another story - behavior does not match rhetoric, in alarming ways. Inevitably one finds significant holes in their spiritual development.

Were they to examine these holes, they would experience profound discomfort. The avoidance of this discomfort is the reason people choose to manage the ayahuasca experience.

This management can occur at every level - physical (purging, not purging), mental (allowing or refusing to admit difficult teachings), emotional (allowing or resisting tears or other expression), spiritual (limiting or not the amount of God we allow in). We can choose not to drink at all. We can choose to smoke marijuana to mitigate the full impact of the experience.

Hah! You see where I'm going with this, don't you?

This is what makes the second category the trickiest of all - almost all of us fall into it, in one way or another. Who among us can indefinitely sustain the full force of ayahuasca dismantling? People crack up from such stuff.

The vast majority of us, particularly those of us with serious trauma in our past, have to manage our relationship to ayahuasca. To do otherwise is suicidal, and in some cases homicidal. I recently visited an ayahuasca community that had its leader murdered a few years ago - they let a young man drink with them who never should have done it, and he snapped. His was a case in which management was neglected, with terrible consequences.

For the committed medicine drinker, then, management is a necessary evil. Perhaps the crucial distinction lies between the strategic and the tactical. At the strategic level we must abandon ourselves to God as expressed through this Holy Sacrament. We must strive to have our tiny individual wills utterly supplanted by His and Hers. We must completely let go of any attempt to manage the ultimate outcome - union with the Divine.

We must also recognize that this is a very long and difficult process. This brings us to the level of the tactical, at which management is not only forgivable but necessary. We must eat this meal in bites. All the nutrition in the world won't do us any good if we choke to death taking it in.

And the entire time we are using our various tricks and tools to manage this essentially unmanageable experience, we must remember that nothing can or should stop our ultimate total surrender. That's the real trick. Never to confuse form and essence.

Perhaps that first group I mentioned, the ones who have been so utterly cleaned and purified by the medicine, were simply very adept at their management of the ayahuasca experience. Perhaps they had a keen, persistent grasp of the difference between the strategic and the tactical. Perhaps they said a prayer something like this:

"God, please bring me to you in a way that I can manage."

God bless you, whoever you are.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Ayahuasca and Marijuana, Part 2

Some months ago, after over 13 years of abstinence, I began smoking marijuana again. I did not do it lightly. I did it because I didn't really have any other choice.

I found myself in a bit of predicament. I had definitively stepped away from the world of 12-step programs and into the world of plant medicine, in a way that I found to be exclusive. I did not regret my decision at all, but after almost a year of drinking ayahuasca I was having serious doubts about the sustainability of my new path. On the one hand, the chronic and unmanageable effects of PTSD had driven me to drinking medicine to begin with, and I had seen real improvement in my life as a result. On the other, the process of clarification was itself becoming unmanageable, with each ceremony bringing up yet another layer of trauma and the negative emotion around it, when the last one had not yet cleared away.

And then a funny thing started happening. I began to get clear intuitive messages from ayahuasca that I should try smoking marijuana again. I talked about it with some trusted friends in my community, and then, finally, I did.

I am now a year into my experiment with resuming marijuana use, and here's what I have to say about it: it's great. I find her to be the perfect compliment to ayahuasca. In the warm, comforting, maternal, subtly visionary space she provides I am able to process the trauma and heartbreak that ayahuasca brings up in the first place. For me, the experience of ayahuasca tends towards the stark: truth, truth, and then more truth again. I find that marijuana softens all of those sharp edges and transforms the whole experience into something that actually works in my life.

It's funny. When I combined marijuana with alcohol, the effect was synergistic and debilitating. Marijuana accentuated the toxic effects of the booze in a way that was truly dysfunctional. Today, when I combine her with ayahuasca, the effect is the opposite: she serves to spread ceremony out throughout my day-to-day life in a way that is useful, beautiful, and inspiring.

A single ayahuasca ceremony can present a bewildering volume of information to assimilate. I find that I need more help unpacking it. A daily meditation practice helps with this greatly. So does smoking pot. Sometimes when I am high tears will come, cleansing me of a trauma that has been locked in my body for decades. Sometimes a lesson that was not fully obvious from the last ceremony will suddenly be brought into relief in a way that is clear and unmistakable. Sometimes a brand new insight will be given to me.

Always my creativity is stimulated, with music, writing, and carpentry all flowing more easily. Always my fatherhood becomes more patient, gentle, and forgiving. Always my work output is enhanced, with seemingly intractable problems suddenly unraveling themselves in the visionary light of Santa Maria.

Do I get all of this free of charge? I do not. My short-term memory is undeniably impaired, which requires me to manage appointments and scheduling more diligently. From time to time I find myself slipping into more addictive patterns of usage, in ways that feel unhealthy. I find that periodic fasts help greatly with this. In addition, ayahuasca herself tends to correct me, putting me back on the correct path and mitigating the danger of addiction.

Perhaps most troubling, I have felt the need to keep this behavior hidden from my daughter, which can result in the feeling of sneaking around her. Honestly, I blame this one primarily on the sickness of our society at large, which does not (at least in Texas) sanction the use of this plant, and in fact criminalizes it. Eventually, when the time is right and she's old enough, I'll tell her about it.

But when I think about where I was a year ago, these side-effects seem pretty insignificant. My depression has left me. I can sleep at night. My creative output has increased enormously. I am no longer troubled by thoughts of suicide.

Just as important, I have felt no urge to resume drinking alcohol. Not even the slightest. When I told my old AA sponsor about smoking pot, he only made one request of me: that I call him if I were ever thinking about drinking again. I'm happy to say that I haven't had to.

In the combination of ayahuasca and marijuana, I have found a blend of plant medicine that truly works for me. I am very grateful for that.

God bless you, whoever you are.