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What is my life’s purpose? What should I do with my life?
At 35 years old, after zeroing out on upper, pharmaceutical prescription drugs while chasing my dream of making a travel tv show, I was desperate for some spiritual enlightenment. Anything. My tank was completely empty. Even the smallest nugget of suggestion, feeling or vision to guide me on a path would have been enough to quench my thirst. To say I was ruminating about my direction would be an understatement, which, most definitely, is the opposite of what an ayahuasca journey is about. Identifying with the mind. Craven, obsessive, annoying any who would listen – but hey, that is how I roll.
“Turner…you need to realize. Ayahuasca never gives you want you want. Ayahuasca only gives you what you need.”
My new Canadian friends, who, bless their hearts, indulged my neurotic rumination on the topic at hand, simply offered the oldest of Ayahuasca adages: Trust in Ayahuasca. In American-speak, the rough translation is: “Shut up and stop self-obsessing, you narcissist.”
Ayahuasca Life Lessons at Mayantuyacu
Over the next weeks at Mayantuyacu, I spent my time immersing myself in the jungle and the river. Mayantuyacu is truly a place of magic. Surrounded by a boiling river and jungle treetops that reach to the sky, it is a natural wonder to behold. Overtime, the entire setting starts to speak to you. From the misty boiling river to the armies of bugs to the chorus of croaking frogs at sundown, it all is there to open you up. The more you open up, the more you breakdown. And the more you breakdown, the more you realize most of the stories you told yourself are just that: Stories. Fiction. The lessons you learn oft strike you as you are just walking around or staring out into the jungle aimlessly. It takes a deep reservoir of patience. It is still frustrating, being alone with yourself, especially if you are used to distracting yourself with a cellphone or watching Netflix, but giving yourself nowhere to run –allows you to confront your unconscious mind. A lot of times it felt like I was on a merry-go-round – wondering what I was missing and why I wasn’t having ‘visions’ or profound realizations like everyone else, rather than just surrendering and remembering: Ayahuasca doesn’t give you what you want, she gives you what you need.
In the end, each marches to their own drum and has their own ayahuasca journey. Everyone experiences ayahuasca differently, but, that being said, here are some lessons that I learned from my Ayahuasca journey in the Amazon.
Lesson 1: Wanting Leads to Not Getting.
My first ayahuasca ceremony I experienced dancing colors, like a child’s kaleidoscope. Near the end of the ceremony, my mind tried to focus on more concrete images that I was seeing, but alas, the channel kept changing. Literally like television channel surfing. The more I grasped, the most the more the channels changed.
Lesson 2: Make Friends with Fear. It is just like any other emotion.
My next second ayahuasca ceremony started like my first, with a sweet technicolor show. There were also some pretty cherry blossom trees. Then I asked the shaman for a second cup of ayahuasca. The sweet images of cherry blossoms gave way to the horrific. Scary trip to the underworld. I finally understood why they called it the vine of the dead. Snakes and some kind of dark shape shifting realm appeared, and with it came Fear. The more I fought the fear, the worse it felt. I tossed and turned on my mattress, but it was inescapable. The only way through it was to allow it. Then I purged. I violently vomited in my bucket, over and over again. Undeterred, I went up for a third cup. To which the shaman just smiled. The fear returned, but this time, I did not fight it. By allowing it, I realized it was just like any other emotion: just something that is there, nothing else; make friends, it will not go away.
Lesson 3: Just Surrender. Let Go.
If there is one lesson that stands out, this one is it. Learning to surrender, like realizing to just allow the fear like any other emotion, gets you in the moment. Resistance is futile and just leads to more resistance. My third ayahuasca ceremony was highlighted near the end of the night, when I finally started to feel myself let go. The more I let go, the better I felt. For the briefest moment, I got a visual. It was an image of my ex-girlfriends 5-year-old son. He looks at me and says: “Thank you”.
I don’t know why I know this, a feeling perhaps, but I am positive that the image was not actually my ex’s kid, but it was me at 5 years old. And I think I was saying ‘thank you’ to myself for opening up Pandora’s box with the hypnosis and following up with ayahuasca.
Lesson 4: Become Comfortable with Stillness.
Life is a series of distractions. Only by tuning out distractions can we find the calm and peace inside. To sit in stillness, and do nothing – with no distraction is more challenging than you think. In modern world, it is near like climbing Everest. Just try to find people who don’t pick up their cellphone every five minutes, much less find comfort in complete stillness. Have you been on a date with a millennial? They spend more time on their phone Snap Chatting than making awkward forced conversation. Which, is not how dating works – there must be suffering, or it is it not dating. Try not looking at your phone, social media or email for the day and feel the dread wash over you.
Lesson 5: More is not always better.
Like any good journey, there is always a fall. While I was getting some insights and I was starting to feel more at ease without my usual distractions, my mind would still not let go. I desired a vision. An answer to my question. And like an addict when he thinks his drugs aren’t working, the inevitable fall occurs. My fourth and fifth ayahuasca ceremonies I thought –“Maybe I just need more?” And so I went for three or four cups. My thought was fight it, to ride the tempest, have it all come at me at once, but instead, I was just all sorts of high. I purged, purged, and purged. And when I was done – I was running for the bathroom, except when you are running to the bathroom at peak high during an ayahuasca ceremony. It is fucking scary. It was like running though a haunted cemetery during a séance. White ghosts and bodies of the day lay at my feet. Where am I?
Lesson 6: Get out of your head and into your body. Get in touch with your energy.
The best advice I received about what to do during an ayahuasca ceremony – which also is relevant to happiness in general, is to ‘get out of your head and feel good in your body’. Focus on surrendering, but feel the emotions of it. Feel your emotions, your energy. Do not run. After having three ayahuasca ceremonies in a row where I pretty much was in the underworld experiencing a nonstop parade of scary shit, incomprehensible shape shifting, and feelings of nausea, this advice pulled me back into the light. If you are an over analyzer, then this will be a challenge. I have a feeling that people who are better at being in their bodies rather than in their heads, such as with many women, are better at connecting with ayahuasca and themselves.
Even outside of ceremony, feeling your emotions and getting in touch with the energy they contain, seems to lead to more happiness.
Lesson 7: All external validation is meaningless.
Leading up to my last days in Mayantuyacu, I could feel my frustration mounting. It was almost time for me to leave Mayantuyacu and I still did not feel like I was connecting with the ayahuasca. So I went to the Shaman, Maestro Juan Flores, for guidance.
He looked at me with his soft eyes.
“Tonight, you will have a vision”
…was the translation.
Feeling hopeful about having a vision on my last night, I headed back to my humble room to get my mind in the ayahuasca zone. However, when I got back to my room, I found a dead hummingbird on my doorstep. Before I could figure out how to dispose of the poor bird, a trail of ants appeared and carried the hummingbird into the jungle.
Unbeknownst to me at the time, the hummingbird has special significance in the ayahuasca tradition. It means the ‘Way of the Soul’. While I was sad and felt a bit of an ominous cloud over me at my favorite type of bird ending up dead on my porch, it felt beautiful and suiting for the ants to carry it back into the jungle.
The circle of life.
A couple of hours later I headed out for a jungle hike to a waterfall before my last ayahuasca ceremony. About five minutes into the hike, a baby python showed up on my path. A baby python about six feet long. I hadn’t even heard of a snake being seen at Mayantuyacu before.
Also, unbeknownst to me at the time, the snake is a powerful ayahuasca symbol. It is the symbol of ‘Rebirth’. It is on universal medical insignia found around the world: two snakes intertwined like a helix.
My last ayahuasca started with the usual fare: smoke, icaros (songs), and a trip to the underworld. This time however, as I lay on my mattress, watching a color display, the colors dissipated and I could see a father and son playing catch. At that moment, the shaman Juan Flores, came over to me in the middle of the ceremony, touched my foot to waken me. He started blessing me by blowing tobacco smoke over me, and then he handed me the remainder of his mapacho (pure tobacco cigarette). I took some puffs from the mapacho, and then felt overcome with this feeling of forgiveness and that it was not necessary to be seeking my father’s or anyone else’s validation. I think grabbed my bucket and vomited – hard. I could feel all of the anger leaving my body.
And just like that my last and greatest lesson hit me like a brick on my last night: All external validation is meaningless. Get rid of it.
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