The Examined Life

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Location: Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Thursday, January 21, 2010


You don’t need Ayahuasca to have an experience of altered consciousness. Ordinary life often supplies opportunities and they come in many forms.

I was speaking to a friend by phone and he was asking about my Ayahuasca experience. Just before he called I had been reading the book The Antipodes of the Mind by Benny Shanon in which the author was describing a vision he had while on Ayahuasca.

Shanon reports having a vision of being present for the capture and torture of Zedekiah by Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon in 586 B.C as told in the Old Testament of the Bible.

In the vision, Shanon is present while Zedekiah is physically restrained and forced to witness his sons being burned alive in a fiery furnace. Then Nebuchadnezzar has Zedekiah’s eyes plucked out.

But this is where the biblical account and the vision differ. In Shanon’s words…

What could poor Zedekiah do? He could not help his children and could do nothing to change their awful lot. He could neither resist nor fight. He could, of course, curse and blaspheme but that would have done him no good. The only thing that he could do really was praise the Lord. This, I saw, is what he did. The blind man who had just lost his kingdom and both his sons was singing a great Halleluiah.

When I read this passage to my friend over the phone we were both quiet for a moment. Then he told me that he had thought of the Haitian people caught in the January 2010 earthquake. Yes, I said, that is it. I am sure many of the victims as they suffered and died, pushed by those horrendous circumstances, found peace and power to the point of rejoicing as they experienced the falling away of all that this consciousness, we call the self, so desperately clings to. In the Ayahuasca vision that Shanon describes he witnesses and experiences “a catharsis that comes from accepting that which cannot be changed.” The message is that we must have this catharsis before we can move forward beyond our greatest fears or even into that which lies beyond our mortal existence.

My own experience with Ayahuasca has shown me that this consciousness, this spirit, is capable of transcending all the judgments and the fears that continually flood into my ordinary reality. This awareness leaves me in a place of wonder, awe and appreciation. From that place I too can sing Halleluiah.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Screaming Man

During the second Ayahuasca ceremony I sat next to a man who screamed, cried and blubbered hysterically during the session. A number of people came to me afterward and ask me if I had been disturbed by the experience.

I related this story individually to several people and I also spoke about it in the sharing session the next day but to be complete, I needed to write about what I witnessed after some reflection.

It became clear to me that what was most significant for me about the experience was the interaction between the shaman and the screaming/crying man. As don Augustin approached the man I began to see energy passing between them. Don Augustin was playing his harmonica and the sound carried the energy visually emanating from him. I have learned later that Icaros, the shaman’s songs, are integral to the work that the shaman does in the Ayahuasca ceremony and the healing process.

The man and the shaman were executing a kind of energy tango (or dueling banjos) where don Augustin would answer each one of his cries with more intense sounds. With my eyes closed, I saw don Augustin as what I interpreted at the time as a figure having the head of a Chinese dragon who was sitting at a large organ and was animated like the Phantom of the Opera.

Later after returning to Lima in a museum I saw a piece of pottery that more accurately depicted the image of what I had seen. It was a depiction of a leopard.

I had witnessed don Augustin playing with the negative energy pulling it from the screaming man and then dispersing it into infinity.

He brought it to a crescendo as he edged closer and closer to the man pulling the pain and suffering out of him. When he reached the man, standing right in front of me, he leaned down a whispered "Ok" into the man’s ear and the man calmed down like a baby being comforted.

I am very grateful to have witnessed this and I will never forget it.