Ayahuasca Part II: Randy, The Serpent, and The Underworld

The recounting of my Ayahuasca journey would be incomplete without full coverage of my main man Randy. I needed a ride to the ceremony, so I asked the Curandero and he connected me with Randy. Initially, we’d all be riding together, but the Curandero and his partner (also a Curandera) ended up riding separately, so that left me and Randy to figure things out on our own. In total, we communicated through 18 emails, 5 phone calls, and 6 text messages over the course of the three days leading up to the event. As a retired software engineer, he’s the first to admit that he isn’t “the best at people,” but he’s very thorough with his communications, specifying routes of travel, time of travel, and one or two alternatives. He even clarified if I’d be using Siri or Google Maps on my phone to navigate after he picked me up from the train station (he had a phobia of driving in the city, so I needed to make my way to the suburbs to meet him).

When he picked me up, he said, “I was lucky enough to grab a free parking spot right over there. It was free for 3 or 4 hours, so I went to the coffee shop to answer some emails. It’s a really nice coffee shop. They have free WiFi and the coffee is pretty good.” It went on like that for a while.

I don’t know exactly what I was expecting him to look like after our extensive electronic communication, but it was different than what I got. He was a tall man in his seventies (best guess), slightly hunched from years of being too tall and sitting in front of a computer. He wore a plaid button down short-sleeve shirt tucked into khaki cargo shorts held up by a belt. Long, spindly legs reached from the shorts to the top of his white socks that filled his large white running sneakers. He wore glasses, and his phone and glasses case were clipped to his belt. He was a kind, gentle human, and based on his appearance, he would’ve been the last person I picked out of a lineup to go on a psychedelic ‘trip’ (he kept using that word and correcting it to ‘journey’).

We stopped at Costco so he could fill up his gas tank, then we stopped at LA Fitness so he could check out the facility and brush his teeth, then we stopped at a few other shops for groceries and some other random shit. Finally, we were on our way to the property in Wauconda, IL where our trip – or journey – was to take place.

The property was motherfuckin’ gorgeous. It was tucked back away from the road and surrounded by tall, beautiful trees. There was a rolling meadow that lead down to a large pond, and everything was a vivid green even before the hallucinogens. You could hear occasional cars drive by on the road and there was construction on the adjacent property, but when the sun started to set, Mother Nature was the only one making noise. Daytime cicadas gave way to nighttime crickets and frogs. Coyotes and owls punctured the continuous hum of the amphibians and bugs every once in a while, and the leaves rustled in response. Mother. Fuckin’. Gorgeous.

The ceremony would be taking place on a covered patio, which was fine by me because I got like 7 mosquito bites in the first five minutes after I got out of the car. We removed most of the furniture from the room, then when the Curanderos got there, we removed the rest and set up the alter and our respective mats, pillows, and blankets. Also, we each got our own “purge bucket” in case we couldn’t make it to the one bathroom to vomit. Mine was a porcelain dog dish, and I was concerned that it wouldn’t be large enough.

We moved pretty quickly through setup, and all sat down to begin the ceremony after some of us meditated for a bit. First, the Curandero gave a summative, “Here’s what to expect out of tonight” talk. Then we had a brief water prayer circle where we presented each other with the life-nourishing water that we’d later all be expelling violently from our bodies.

Then we had a round of “Rapé,” a powdered tobacco similar to snuff, but mixed with tree ash. The Spirit of Tobacco was described as a grandfather spirit – social, calming, and providing focus. It was poured into two small piles on the Curandero’s hand, then scooped up in a small, wooden pipe. Then you helped guide the pipe to your nostril, and it was blown forcefully up your nose on both sides. It burned, made your mouth water, and if you let it hit the back of your throat (or heaven forbid swallowed any) it made you gag.

Then we all went up one by one to the alter to receive “the medicine.” The Ayahuasca root is mashed and boiled along with Chacruna, and the end result is a thick, dark brown tea of sorts. Based on my experience with mushrooms, I figured it would taste awful, but I was delightfully surprised by its sweetness and palatability. After we sat back down, a condor and eagle feather – symbolizing the spirits of the North and the South – were passed around, we summoned one or both of the spirits and shared our intentions for the evening.

I can’t recall each of my intentions, but I can say with certainty that I had the longest list. As the Rapé took hold, my nervousness turned to excitement. As evening darkness settled in around us, we fell silent. The Shaman eventually started chanting lightly, and I could feel the edges of a drug state creeping up on me. I went prone and closed my eyes just in time to catch a flood of images rushing past my eyelids. They came too fast for me to make heads or tails of them. I opened my eyes and was surprised that my vision wasn’t really affected with my eyes open. There were still little hints of hallucinogen here and there, but compared to the technicolor world inside my head, the outside world was muted.

I closed my eyes again and found myself in a rainforest. I saw a large serpent descending from a tree in front of me. She (I intuitively knew it was a female) lowered herself until we were staring at one another eye-to-eye. “Hey there, Snake.” I said. She said nothing, but she then phased through my face and slithered down into my torso. I had vivid images of her writhing around in there continuously, and they were accompanied by my stomach feeling unsettled. I was never scared, though. Somehow this all seemed very natural.

My eyes shot open as a very clear and present need to expel my stomach’s contents from both ends took hold. I made my way to the bathroom and locked myself in, grateful for its presence and for the moments of quiet that punctuated my purging. Per the “what to expect” conversation, we were to have a second round of medicine, and while I sat on the toilet I thought, “Well there’s no way I’m doing that!”

When I got back to my mat, the Curandero said, “Alright, we will now open up the circle to the second round of medicine.” So of course I did it. This time, the Rapé was administered via a large, hollowed out bone that allowed for much more of it to be given much faster. I gulped down the second helping of tea and got back to my mat just in time to take advantage of my dog dish. After expelling a plethora of dark, brown matter from my person, I laid back down.

This time I had visions of my skin being charred from head to toe. Then I started to see demonic faces – some with horns, some without skin, some with red, glowing eyes, some made of lava. I saw one of them run his hand along the entirety of an animal (it was either a warthog or a possum, couldn’t tell) and with the passing of his hand, all of the living tissue was stripped from the bone. Again, none of this scared me – it just was. Finally, I was surrounded with these creatures in their world – a post-apocalyptic wasteland filled with burnt, crumbling buildings and swirls of ash. Honestly, I felt very at home.

Then vomiting. Much more vomiting. As I started to come to, I realized that the two Curanderos had stopped their rhythmic chanting and drum beats, and the circle was coming to a close for the night. The two feathers were being passed around again so we could share the gift of our voices. I was still hunched over my bowl when I heard Randy say, “I’ll wait for Brother Sean to feel a little better before I pass him the feathers.”

“No… Skip me…” I muttered as saliva dripped from my lips.

But he didn’t. He waited. Then he said, “Hold the feathers – they have healing powers.”

“Ugh.” I said. But I took the feathers, and thought, “I’ll be damned. I feel better.” I explained my violent transition from one world to another and the serpent and probably a host of other things that I just can’t recall right now.

“You were in the underworld,” the Curandero said in a calm, “well duh” kind of way.

I remember thinking, “I wasn’t just in the underworld – I was a fucking king there.” and I had a vision of me with a gold crown on a delapidated throne, then I passed the fuck out. 

Sitting and Breathing: Day 29

I know, I know – it was supposed to be a 28 day program, but I didn’t do anything yesterday so here we are. Happy Valentine’s Day to those who celebrate it.

As the photo here shows, I occasionally let my dog play too rough. I have fun, he has fun, but often I get a little damaged. That photo was taken about a week ago, right before I found out I was getting the barbacking gig at the fancy place (my first day is today, by the way). Since then, I’ve been careful to only use his tug-of-war rope so that my hand had time to heal. For the most part, it worked very well and he was very cooperative.

Then I got home from work last night, and after walking him around the block, where he both peed and pooped, I returned to my room to find a large poop in the middle of the floor. Now, I move my bed out of my room and lock up all my things each time I leave the house so he has a decent space to play in, and also to account for his mishaps. So really, this is kind of par for the course. But yesterday I was really looking forward to coming home, putting my bed back in my room, and getting a good night sleep in preparation for today’s shift, which I’ve been a little nervous about.

The poop in the middle of my floor meant that I had to clean the floor, but the smell clearly meant I was sleeping on the couch, and that pissed me off. I punched the wall and opened up two of my knuckles in the process. So now, not only was I not going to get a good night’s sleep, but my hand also had two fresh wounds on it because I couldn’t control my anger in that moment. I did not go to sleep in the best of moods.

I also did not wake up in the best of moods. The couch just isn’t as comfortable as my bed, and it smells like dog, and of course, Maximus woke me up like fives times this morning asking to go outside.

So! I finished reading the last bits of Real Happiness, and sat myself down for some good ol’ breathing. Holy crap did I need that. In the last bits of the book, she discusses how the point of continual meditation practice is not to become better at meditation, but to become better at life. I don’t sit and breath so that I can master sitting and breathing, I do it so that it connects me on a deeper level with myself, my emotions, and the events, people, and dogs in my life.

My practice itself hasn’t improved much over the course of the last month. I still get easily distracted, I still get washed away by torrents of emotion, I still get bored and restless just like I did on day one. But I will say that minus punching the wall yesterday, I have a much different way of interacting with my emotions. Meditation has, of course, made me no less of a human being – no less prone to the ups and downs of my own mind or less likely to experience positive and negative occurrences – but it has given me a powerful tool when it comes to my perception of those things.

So ends my series on Sitting and Breathing, but my journey on the road to better understanding the intricacies of my world feels like it’s just beginning, or at least beginning anew. Next up on the reading docket is Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Enlightenment by Joseph Goldstein. I will keep you abreast of what I learn there, and regale you with more tales of my nonsense going forward.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart for taking the time to read about my journey thus far, and I look forward to continuing it with you.