If you haven’t read part 1, it is here.
In this trip report is one of the most blissful hours of my life, one of the most meaningful hours of my life, and absolutely one of the most challenging hours of my life.
In the course of three days I tasted a piece of heaven, saw a slice of my future, and I dipped my mind into hell.
As always, thank you for your love in the form of your awareness reading these words. You have the known universe at your fingertips and you’ve chosen to be here, now, so thank you.
Day 4: Earth Mesada (Day of the Heart)
It is the day of the 2nd Mesada, and Don Howard continues to demonstrate his other-worldliness.
It is 1:30pm. We are back in the maloka, and he’s doing his Soul-Stare ritual.
Eventually his eyes meet mine, and after a few moments of timeless gazing, he slowly moves his hand to point to his head and gives me a nearly imperceptible head shake, as if to say “no.” Then he slowly moves his pointed finger to his heart, and places his palm over his chest, and nods.
Clearly, Gandalf saw that little Erick’s Ego was all in his head last time he drank Huachuma. Don Howard was inviting me to leave the comfort blanket of my analyzing mind and to step into my heart.
I felt my eyes water a little. I nodded with a wide grin and moist eyes.
He turned to the mesa to pour my cup, and the cutest thing happened.
The beginning of the pour was by the Shaman King, but it looked like he poured a little extra then he intended, and for a moment I saw the human from Kentucky make the cute little “uh-oh” face a grandfather gives a toddler who just ate the cookie before the vegetable mush. It was light-hearted and made me smirk.
I stepped to my brew, gave my offering and made my request.
2nd Mesada Offer
“My life’s mission is to help heal Western Culture.”
2nd Mesada Request
“I ask for clarity of heart.”
Then I drank my very full cup.
Boat Ride Out
Huachuma is considered a masculine grandfather plant whereas Ayahuasca is considered a feminine Grandmother plant. Where Ayahuasca teaches you to surrender to the truth of what is revealed, Huachuma will give you the clarity to see your situation, yet allows you to choose, over and over, how you wish to respond to the tests.
My test for the 2nd Mesada was to get the fuck out of my head and into my heart, and on the boat ride out, ya boi was failing like an Art major’s freshmen attempt at Organic Chemistry.
I found myself lost in thought about the planet and the human condition. My mind wandered here because we were on a different part of the Amazon river. No more were we in the cozy winding river, where, from bank to bank, the widest she got was 25 feet.
No, now we were on the superhighway of the Amazon. It must've been half a mile wide. There were massive multi-million dollar boats along the coast and all kinds of personal cheap boats scattered about.
But what got me thinking was the way the sky looked.
It was massive and wide and gaping. And my mind began thinking about what our human situation is.
We are a crowd of creatures on a massive organic rock. The size of this thing is truly beyond our evolved brain’s comprehension. We, and all we know are pinned to this rock due to the sheer speed of its rotation and mass of it’s core.
All the water on the planet and all the organic life walking and running and flying on this rock, are like the kids who get into that carnival ride that spins so fast you get stuck to the wall.
Above us, beyond the atmosphere that our brains believe is the edge of the universe...is the universe. Infinite nothing is a few miles up. We are such fragile little things when I think scientifically.
And yet, in the face of all of this, our minds rebel. We each have (at least) two minds in us.
The fragility of our species and the seeming randomness of life that modern cosmology offers us is a symbol for the modern scientific mind, and yet...my huachuma metabolizing experience served as the symbol for the archaic mythic mind.
Our mythic mind demands that we, the individual, be the center of our universe. Our experience of life will not allow us to think any other way than this. It doesn’t matter how much science we learn, how much philosophy we read, or how loudly we proclaim life is meaningless -- our minds sit us directly in the center of a universe imbued with meaning.
The love of our children demands this.
The love for our lovers demands this.
The love for our friends demands this.
Love of any kind, demands the activation of the archaic mythic mind.
It’s a weird dance the modern mind has to do. Our scientific mind knows we are but a speck of dust in an infinite void, and at the same time, our mythic mind knows we are the pulsing centerpiece of the most magnificent song that could possibly be imagined by all the gods.
Fuck...I’m still in my head.
Arrival at the Port City
Eventually, we dock, and even though I notice I’ve been in my head the entire boat ride, I don’t condemn my little monkey brain for his defense, I just try to be more mindful to just be. Here; now.
For today, Don Howard has us dock at a small river port town, where we will then walk about a mile until we get to the edge of the jungle, where we will proceed to hike through the rainforest for about 30 minutes.
Our goal will be to meet a small tribe that sits at the edge of a sacred river, where we will then have a couple of hours to relax and bathes in the stream.
As we begin heading to the jungle opening, Aubrey sees me and asks me how I’m doing. I mention Don Howard’s Head and Heart advice, and how I was trying to be in my heart instead of my head.
He looked at me the way a seasoned veteran looks at an earnest but naive new recruit and said;
“To try is to be in your mind. Do, and you are in your heart.”
And that was all that needed to be said. I nodded
From that point on, the next 4-5 hours are kind of a blur, because as the Huachuma grew in intensity, the thinking Ego Erick began sliding away into some other part of my psyche.
For the sake of the story, I’ll do my best to share how events unfolded, but know, I was here, in these moments, but without much thinking at all, no judging, just being.
As we walked through this very small, very poor town, I noticed how intimate the houses were. They were very close to each other, and no house was completely walled off from the environment. These people, while poor, and living in conditions that the weak modern part of me fears, knew they had something psychologically that was critical.
They lived in a way that is truly tribal.
I think there is an innate human need to sleep in an environment where you hear the breathing, movement, and noises from dozens of humans you know and recognize. It is entirely a hunch, but I think humans who get this; sleep better, are more resistant to disease, and are less likely to suffer from mental illness.
I don’t think we have evolved to sleep in isolated cubes where we at most hear the breathing of a lover and maybe the crying of an infant. I think our brains evolved to hear the sounds of dozens of living bodies while we sleep; the bodies of people we love with, hunt with, eat with, and are willing to die for.
The proximity of these houses I think delivered that kind of sleeping experience. I think these people have something modern monkeys lack.
However, while this thought was positive, witnessing these human’s living conditions was jarring.
We are so fucking pampered in the West.
Because of the intensity with which Huachuma was beginning to pulse through me, I don’t remember details of these people’s homes, but I remember the feeling. It was an overwhelming, simultaneous, sadness, respect, gratitude, and anger.
Eventually, we made it to the jungle opening, and we began our hike.
It’s weird to reflect back on this walk. I recall almost no thoughts, and yet, at one point in the walk, we had to cross a wide log that was about 10-15 feet above the ground. The woman in front of me slipped and was inches away from falling and being awfully injured, but because of the love juice coursing through me, my mind didn’t linger on the near disaster. I just kept on walking, in love with the present moment.
After about 30 minutes, but what felt both much shorter and much longer, we arrived at the stream.
Sober me, the night before, was worried about this moment. I’m traveling with a group of people who look like models, who do not have the social and sexual inhibitions most people I know have, and little Ego Erick was worried they’d get nude and that I’d feel pressured to do the same.
The juxtaposition of my fear from the night before and the love I had in the present moment was the epitome of hilarity.
In this moment, I didn’t even notice other people. As soon as I got to the stream, I got into my swim trunks and began slowly stepping into the water.
Time begins to get weird here because the Huachuma was so much stronger than the first mesada. However, I do know that at this point, I entered into one of the greatest moments of my life.
The sky was blue and huge, the sun shimmered through lush green treetops, the water sparkled like a sea of diamonds glittering in the love of the sun, and there in that river, I knelt, eyes closed, oozing love from every part of my organism.
I distinctly remember the flowing river feeling like multiple lover’s hands sensually dripping over my body, beckoning my masculinity to come forward. I remember calmly transforming pulses of light geometry dancing behind my closed eyes. I remember my heart singing something to my mind, that if I had to put language to it, was saying something like, “We’ve never felt this kind of bliss before.”
I existed in this state, without language, in an ego coma triggered from a love hug, for over an hour. For 75 minutes, Erick napped, and my awareness basked in a bliss and a love I did not know was something my human consciousness had access to.
Then something happened that called forth a sobbing deeper than anything I think I’ve ever allowed to occur in front of others (yet I don’t think anyone noticed).
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw movement in the woods, and a figure emerged. Before me was an indigenous man, in his 40s, carrying what looked like 100lbs of wood on his back. The bag he had for the wood had a handle that wrapped around this man’s forehead, and I saw sweat and strain on his face.
He looked like he was on the way home to his village. In order to get to where he was going, he had to pass through the stream. He had to walk through 30 high Westerners, who each looked like they were heart-deep in ecstasy, and something about this situation broke my fucking heart open.
As I write this, my logical mind can weave stories about how all of this is perfect, that he chose that life, that he isn’t suffering, that maybe he loves his life and that he has grace and bliss and love comparable or greater than mine, but that is not what I felt.
I was crushed by a cacophony of emotions. I was crushed by my admiration for this man. I was crushed by a guilt I dance with often when I viscerally experience the cosmic magnitude of my seemingly random luck and fortune. I was crushed by my own gratitude, both to this man for simply being, and to this plant medicine for the wisdom, this moment showed me.
I sobbed and snotted and bowed my heart to this man. Thankfully, almost as a comic relief, after I sobbed my sob for a minute or so, my mind offered Buddhist proverb,
“Before enlightenment; chop wood, carry water.
After enlightenment; chop wood, carry water.”
This bliss hug from Huachuma is not for bliss’s sake. I am here in the world for a reason. I offered my Life’s Mission for this clarity of heart, and there is work to do.
I eventually, somehow, dried off, got my clothes on, and made it back to the boats.
Boat Ride Home
We were lucky enough to get a boat ride home under a full moon.
It was fucking magical -- the way the full white moon reflected off the dark water.
It’s comical how inadequate the picture does justice to the beauty of that night. This was the backdrop to maybe the most meaningful experience I had on the entirety of my experience in Peru.
I have a weird personal habit when I’m inside of a psychedelic experience.
When I’m really deep in an experience, I tend to either hallucinate -- or become fixated on -- a circular object. It may be a mandala, the moon, the sun, a far-off light, or something entirely made up in my mind.
The peculiar thing is that this circular object always feels like a gateway or a portal or a tunnel. It is always a symbol for a connection to something beyond where I am now.
One time on mushrooms, it felt like God spoke to me through a portal in the sky, another time felt like a huge technologic/biologic force was trying to ooze through a hole I was hallucinating on LSD, and a third experience, while on MDMA, felt like my future self was on the other side of a far-off light, assuring the me on this side that all would be okay, that I was on the right path, and to just relax.
On this night, the moon was my portal.
As our boat glided along the dark river, I was fixated on the moon. At first, there wasn’t any thinking, I was just staring at this beautiful orb. But soon a feeling began to dawn on me.
(Note: the following is a description of my experience, not a description of the material world.)
The moon was the eye of God. A part of my mind began speaking to the eye. Without conscious intent, I began thanking the moon -- thanking God. I thanked God for my life, for my mind, for my fortune, and then I began thanking God for the children I don’t yet have, and the wife I haven’t yet met, and for accomplishing the goals I haven’t yet achieved (I don’t know why I did this, it just felt right).
Then things got a little weirder.
There is a feeling that sometimes come with altered states of consciousness that William James coined the “noetic quality.” It is the feeling one gets in an altered state where what they experience feels more real than real. As if the thing being revealed in the altered state is truer than anything experienced in normal waking consciousness.
Well, I felt this.
I felt that my unborn children were on the other side of this lunar portal. My wife was there too, and I cried at meeting them. I couldn’t see or hear them, but I felt them.
I let them know that I loved them, that I couldn’t wait to meet them, and that all I’m doing is dedicated to them, and is for them. With this connection and dedication came a deep sense of peace, and from this peace came some clarity on my life’s mission.
My life’s mission, when stated as clearly as I can, is: To create the most empirically effective psychological system for treating Depression.
Due to some of the insights from the 1st Mesada, along with the clarity and peace I had at the moment, I realized this mission was wrong.
My goal is not to heal depression. My goal is to study depression enough to be able to psychometrically measure whatever the true opposite of depression is (the word that lends itself at the moment, for this psychological condition that is the opposite of depression, is “Ascension,” but that feels a little too grandiose for scientific minds).
If I use all the data we have on depression to create the measurement for it’s opposite, and then create an empirical system that reliably cultivates whatever this opposite is, then Depression and its symptoms would be healed as a byproduct.
This is a subtle but significant difference. I’m going to dedicate my professional life to learning how to help any kind of human move towards this higher psychological state, and the natural byproduct will be a system that can help those who are depressed.
I get goosebumps even now writing about this. This insight feels so right. This clarification feels so true. It all feels noetic.
My poetically inclined mind believes that because I made such a pure promise to the psychological symbol of my future family that I was gifted this extra slice of clarity on my life’s mission from some deep part of my psyche; that this was an archetypical psychic event that produced an intervention from my soul to guide my ego.
But the rationalist still lives in me, and he offers that this idea, to subtly change the focus of my life’s mission, is something I had already thought, but that my ego seized the feeling of significance this night and Huachuma provided in order to imbue the idea with some sacredness, because with the added sacredness would come greater enthusiasm and discipline, which would make my ego more effective at getting what it wants.
I’m frankly okay with either perspective because the pragmatic effect on my life is the same.
I’m a man who knows exactly what he is aimed at in this life, for at least the next 20 years. It’s a goal I’m happy sacrificing too and even dying for. I think it’s the most powerful contribution I can give back to the world before entropy swallows me up.
As my mind flowed in and out of this reverie, I noticed a large cloud that seemed to only be around the moon, for the rest of the gaping sky was clear. And I felt my mind begin playing. It wanted to turn the cloud and the glowing orb into a shape -- a figure -- and I let it.
My mind chose a falcon. The moon was his right eye. His left wing was up and extended, half a mile long, and it felt as if he was looking into the future, and pointing his massive wing in the direction of his gaze.
My mind didn’t try creating a story around this figure in the sky, and I felt no direct download or instruction from apprehending it. I just watched. I simply observed this massive psychologically manifested creature in the sky -- seemingly beckoning me to boldly go into the future.
I guess, in a stern masculine way, he was saying that the lesson was over. That I had received what I needed, and it was time to move on.
I happily listened.
Other things happened that evening, but from a psychological perspective, nothing was as important as this. I barely recall anything else.
I had been able to step out of my mind for a few hours. I had clarity on my mission. I felt like I met my family. I was grateful to Huachuma for this Earth Mesada.
Day 6: Air Mesada and Vilca (Day of the Soul)
One of the beautiful souls I traveled with shared something about the 3 Mesadas that really resonated with me.
She told me that Don Howard said there is a kind of meta-structure to the week-long ceremony.
She said that the 1st Mesada shows you where you’ve been psychologically, the 2nd shows you where you are now psychologically, and the 3rd shows you where you are going, psychologically.
I thought about that a lot.
The first Mesada showed me where I’ve been the last 10 years --all the way up in my fucking head. Since my physical and emotional trauma, I had retreated to my logical mind and built a fucking fortress.
When I was 21, I fell in love and choosing to love a human, and really trying to understand her, started bringing forth my heart.
From age 21 to now, I’ve slowly but steadily cultivated my heart. I’ve learned to love in ways and to depths that the younger me could not have fathomed -- would not have dared too -- out of fear.
That is what the 2nd Mesada showed me -- that I’m capable of climbing out of my mind and living in my heart.
The lesson of the 3rd Mesada was absolutely the hardest. It seems that where I am going, the lesson my secretly massive ego must learn is -- how to let other people help me...how to accept other people’s medicine.
Because, on the morning of the last Mesada, the day we would not only take the strongest dose of Huachuma, but also snort the most potent psychedelic on the planet, I woke up as sickly as I’ve been in years.
I’m not sure what caused it, but I awoke with a strong need to go to the bathroom. Everything came out completely liquid, and I hopefully thought that whatever was in me had been cleared away.
I tentatively ordered a light, simple breakfast. Ate one or two bites and ended up back in the bathroom. All liquid again.
It was a few hours before the ceremony began, so I went to a hammock and tried to just relax.
I started feeling a fever coming on. It was nearly 90 degrees outside and I was shivering. As the ceremony approached, I asked some friends for medicine. I was given some oregano oil and strong probiotics, and the moment I took them I vomited it all up, plus extra. I didn’t know I had this much inside me to expel, but my body was fucking evacuating everything.
Eventually, I made it to the maloka, and all I thought about while we waited was to ask my body to please keep the Huachuma down. I didn’t want to projectile vomit the medicine in front of everyone.
As Don Howard did his Soul Stare ritual, a weak part of me wished he’d notice how sick I was and not give me any Huachuma, but I’m grateful that my psyche has shown me, that when it comes down to the moment, my best self shows up.
So, when Don Howard locked eyes with me, I didn’t have a choice. I gave him my strongest and most confident smile. This was the only day he didn’t break out into a huge smile when we did this eye dance. He looked at me sternly and solemnly. Gave the soul in me he was looking into a small nod, and poured my cup.
I stepped up to the mesa and gave my offering:
3rd Mesada Offer
“My life’s mission is to help western culture ascend.”
And I made my request
3rd Mesada Request
“I ask to be shown the connection to my Soul”
*And I asked to not throw up the Huachuma
I then drank my Huachuma, and surprisingly, knew I would not throw it up. It was odd how sure I was, but I knew I wouldn’t.
As the rest of the ceremony proceeded, I sat in my chair, relieved. I was glad I did it. I was glad I wouldn't throw up, and I knew I had a long and difficult day ahead of me, because I could feel my body getting weaker.
As we were waiting for everyone to get ready for the boats, Aubrey and a few others began to play a song. I felt my first test of the day emerge.
I could sit here and marinate in my illness, or I could join them.
I did my best to add a rhythmic clap every 4th beat, and while I did that, all sensations of weakness, fever, and nausea left me. For a few minutes I was shown that, even if the body wails in self-pity, the mind can enter the present moment where suffering cannot exist.
Boat Ride Out
The boat ride out was the most difficult part of the day (Vilca was the most difficult part of the night...and of my life, but more on that later.)
I sensed a weird thing happening in my body. I was sick. Even sipping water made me gag and I had to fight off the will to purge. I stopped drinking for the rest of the day.
But the weird part was that, as the come-on waves of the Huachuma splashed on my consciousness, I would feel relief from my physical symptoms. But because Huachuma comes on in waves, at the lulls of the medicine, my physical ailments would return.
And so it oscillated for the next 8 hours. Waves of clarity, love, and brilliance, matched by waves of weakness, nausea, and self-pity.
The only gem I can recall from this boat ride out was that my discomfort pushed me back into my meditation practice that I have dropped the last couple of months since starting at Onnit.
I stepped back into the calm center I’ve discovered with meditating, and I could manage my symptoms from that place. It was effortful, and I was low on energy, but for maybe 10 minutes, I simply observed my physical feelings -- sensed and didn’t judge my ego’s lamenting and complaining about my physical feelings, which was the real cause of my suffering -- and I just loved it.
It helped -- a little.
Don Howard’s plan for this last mesada was for us to go to a beautiful beach that no one else goes too, where we would be able to just be in the grandeur of the sky, and after a few hours we’d get to experience one of the most beautiful sunsets we’d ever get the chance to see.
Well, chance gave us something else.
As we pulled into the beach, it was packed with people. There were fires, tents, blaring speakers, jet skis, and food trucks.
Don Howard said he’d never seen the beach like this, and after some mental calculations, he realized that it was some kind of national holiday, and it was Saturday. The locals were out in full party mode, and they would now be a part of our medicine. It was as it needed to be.
As soon as we docked, I walked to the edge of the beach, near the shade of the jungle, and laid down near Don Howard.
I had not a single fucking ounce of energy. I felt pathetic but wasn’t lamenting myself. I needed to just lay down, and I did.
Allowing Others to Share Their Medicine
It was at this point that today’s main lesson started arising.
All sorts of people from our tribe came up to me throughout the afternoon and evening to check on me, ask me how I was, and to offer whatever their love medicine was.
For some it was a hug or a loving hand on my shoulder, others offered actual medicine or medical advice. One beautiful soul did energy work on me for almost 20 minutes, and another actually started talking in a way that brought forth my inner psychologist to help her -- which in it’s own weird way gave me strength and helped me.
I realized that this was my lesson today -- to accept other people’s medicine.
As a child, I very quickly learned to be the helper. At the root of this was the feeling that, if I’m not extraordinarily useful, I’m not worthy of love. So, I have a deep problem letting other people help me. And it isn’t out of pride, it’s out of fear. Some young part of me fears that if I need help, it means I won’t be worthy of love.
Huachuma showed me this, and it was difficult.
It got me to thinking about the meta-structure of the Huachuma Mesada; that the 1st day was about where I’d been, the 2nd was about where I am now, and the 3rd about where I was headed.
The night of the 2nd Mesada, I was shown with mythic clarity where I’m going, and it seemed that the 3rd Mesada was showing me the new skill I’d have to learn if I am going to succeed getting to the place I’m trying to ascend to.
I was grateful, and I apologize.
I was on that beach for hours, but I’ve got no other landmarks for you. I was having a hard time, and I don’t remember much more.
Well, I do recall mustering up the energy to get in the water, and although it was worth it, once I got out, and as the evening darkness grew, I became a cold shivering mess, which set the stage for the ride home.
Boat Ride Home
The boat ride home was weird. I was in the kind of headspace I was in the 2nd Mesada -- which is to say, no headspace. It was as if the illness reduced all blood flow to my prefrontal cortex and so, I literally could not think. I was just existing in the raw feelings of my body.
And the feelings weren’t good.
I felt hot inside, yet I was shivering. I felt completely void of any energy, like one bump of the boat could send me off the edge and I’d have no will to swim. Nausea rolled in waves whenever the Huachuma had one of his lulls.
But my friends were looking out for me. One had his huge arm wrapped around me for warmth, his wife held my hand to let me know she was there for me, and another, who sat in the row on the boat in front of us would lean back ever so often to touch my arm or leg to let me know she was with me too.
It was beautiful, and if I had had more energy, I would have cried, but I had no energy, so I just sat in the shivering love.
I did have some interesting visions. One I can share, and the other, while I’d share if it only concerned me, will have to be kept confidential because I don’t know if the people concerned would be concerned about it being shared.
The one I can share has to do with my friend who had his arm around me and my dad. My friend next to me is about 10 years older than I, is a father of a boy I love, and is frankly a fucking savage of a man.
I was in awe of how loving he was, and how this level of loving can only come from a man who is not inhibited in fear or an over-active inner judge. It got me thinking about my dad. I got to thinking about how my dad had never wrapped his arm around me like this. Because of his programming and his personal trauma, he just didn’t know how to love me like this.
And it got me thinking about my own children, and how I never want that to be a thought they can claim to have. I’m aware of the fear and programming I still have in me that inhibits my giving and receiving love, but I will do the work to metaprogram these barriers for my children’s sake.
It was a beautiful lesson.
Preparing for Death
Once we docked, Don Howard told us that he had an hour, then we’d meet in the Maloka to complete the final part of the final day: snorting Vilca.
As I made my way back to the room, I nearly fell over a few times. Walking was hard. I asked Don Howard if I should do anything for my fever before Vilca and he said no -- that if I was going to do Vilca, I should wait until after to take anything else.
Even though I wanted nothing more than to leave the world and sleep for 20 hours, I knew I’d regret this choice for a lifetime.
So I drank a lot of water, took a shower, got dressed, and waited in a friends room until it was time.
I had a special moment with her. She was the one who sat in front of me on the boat ride home that evening, who turned around periodically to hold my hand and to reassure me that she was with me and that it’d be okay.
She told me that the entire ride home she couldn’t stop worrying about me. She said she, with the help of huachuma, stepped into a metaphysical place and began working on my body. She looked me in the eyes with a love and a confidence that I believed on a soul level, and told me that I’d be better.
I believed her, and I fell more in love with her.
A theme of this week with Huachuma that slowly emerged, (because there was no acute event to mark it), is that I found myself able to look multiple people in the eyes and say “I love you” with no psychological flinching.
This is new for me, because, if I’m being honest, most of the time when I tell someone I love them, I feel something happening inside my psyche that feels like a flinch -- like a mini-hesitation that is the product of fear.
It didn’t happen here, with her, as I waited for Vilca.
This will be the hardest trip report I’ve ever written.
Firstly, because it simply is so utterly beyond language, that in order to share it, I’m going to have to reduce it so drastically as to render the actual experience impossibly different then the story I share, and secondly, because it was the most challenging experience I’ve ever had on psychedelics, and to rewrite it will be to relive it in a way.
There are two quotes I want to share to set the stage for the impossibility of describing this in language:
“You have to imagine a caveman transported into the middle of Manhattan. He see buses, cell phones, skyscrapers, airplanes. Then zap him back to his cave. What does he say about the experience? ‘It’s big, it was impressive, it was loud.’ He doesn’t have the vocabulary for ‘skyscraper,’ ‘elevator,’ ‘cell phone.’ Maybe he has an intuitive sense there was some sort of significance or order to the scene. But there are words we need that don’t yet exist. We’ve got five crayons when we need fifty thousand different shades.”
-Bill Richards, Psychologist on describing the Mystical Experience
“To put words to an experience that was in fact ineffable at the time, and then to shape them into sentences and then a story, is inevitably to do it a kind of violence. But the alternative is, literally, unthinkable.”
-Michael Pollan, Journalist on describing the Mystical Experience
As we gathered in the maloka, there is an eerie feeling. Everyone was nervous. Vilca was described as the plant that will kill you.
Don Howard, sensing the unease is the candle-lit room brought a little playfulness along with his Shaman King energy. He dropped a few one-liners that sent laughter rolling through every nervous throat in the room.
He’s a true king.
In his otherworldly grace, he explained how tonight would go. He explained that we’d be snorting a fine powder at the front of the mesa. That he’d stand there with us and make sure we got enough. He explained that if you feel your nose burning, you did it correctly.
He also explained that once you snorted it, you had about 8 minutes to get back to your room, so be quick. You did not want to be anywhere other than your bed when it began.
I didn’t have to be told twice.
He mentioned that we each would snort with our roommate, and we’d both make sure each other got back to our room.
When it was mine and my roommate’s turn, we stepped up to the mesa and looked at the sacred powder. Don Howard calmly explained that there were two devices we could use to snort the Vilca. Both were over a thousand years old pieces of shaman’s hands. One was a little more recent, and one was much older.
He asked which I wanted to snort with, and without hesitation, I asked for the older one. He nodded in approval and I began snorting.
My first 2 snorts were shallow due to my nervousness. He asked me to snort again, and I did, and felt substantially more dust enter my nose and throat.
As I stepped back to let my roommate take his turn, I don’t know if I hallucinated it, but I began to see the mesa move and pulse. I was seeing red and greens jump out of the tapestry. I think because I was completely empty of anything else in my body, the come on came on a little more quickly.
Once my roommate got his nostrils filled with the DMT powder, we headed back to our room.
The maloka we were at is on the far side of the retreat center. In order to get to our rooms, we have to cross a long bridge appropriately dubbed “The Eternity Bridge.”
It’s called the Eternity bridge because, when you are walking on that thing while Vilca is creeping into your consciousness, it begins to feel like a never-ending in-between world that transports you from waking life to the infinite void of Vilca.
Also, I’m drive-by vomiting over the railing as I speed-walk to my room. The Vilca is twisting my insides and I’m full Exorcist-mode at this point. My roommate sternly tells me to keep moving. We have only a couple minutes until all motor control stops, and that I have a purge bucket in the room I can die into.
Right before we get to the room I start vomiting again and he has to do what he has to do: leaves me and gets to his bed before Vilca consumes him.
I remember turning from my vomit towards the front door of our room. I somehow open it, get to my bed and as soon as I lay down, my body does the most violent dry-heave it’s ever done. I felt my entire digestive tract vibrate, and my legs and torso literally spasmed off the bed as my body contracted, trying to expel anything that may be left inside me...but nothing came up and I fell back to my bed.
Note: Here is where things get ineffable. Everything I am about to write is post-hoc articulation of memories, because during those 80 minutes, there was no Erick, there was no thinking, there was no language. But write we must, so here we go.
As I lay in darkness, I saw slithering movement -- as if the entirety of my visual field was the reflection of fire light off the smooth scaling skin of a mass of moving snakes. Then, very quickly, Erick was gone.
If you take a moment to connect with your experience right now, you’ll realize a couple things. One is that, everything you see, everything you think, is because they have edges; either physical or psychological. Every object, every thought you have, each of these words -- they are apprehendable to you because they have defined borders.
The 2nd major thing is that your ego, the thing in you that responds when you hear your name, the thing in you that judges, worries about the past and the future -- that thing is not the only thing in you. There is a thing in you that is aware of your ego, but it is not your ego. Some call it Awareness, or Consciousness, or The Witness.
Any readers of this section need to connect to this experience because what Vilca did was completely dissolve all borders. There was no object to apprehend, there was no thought that could be thought, there were no words that could be worded, and there was no Erick, because the ego is an accumulation of thoughts and words. With the loss of borders, there is the death of the ego.
But there was still Awareness. The light in me that witnesses my ego was still there...and it was witnessing The Void.
The experience I experienced, for the next 80 minutes can best be summed as The Void. There was no one Thing to perceive, but there was something happening. It was infinite. It was beyond comprehension. In hindsight, I realized I was confronting eternity.
The shadow of the dragon that haunted me as a child, was here now. I was here, looking into it. The Abyss. The Void. Eternity.
The true terror of this state was, while I was in it, the memory that Ego Erick had ever existed could not be remembered. This experience felt like it was forever. It always had been, and it always would be.
It was Eternity.
There was a peculiar sensation I remember now that I’m thinking about this.
Erick wasn’t completely gone. It felt like Erick was far, far away, in the back of my awareness. He was seeing this too -- and he was screaming.
He was terrified. If he had had control of the body (which I couldn’t feel), he distinctly felt the urge to get up, run as fast as he could, and shriek in the night.
This thing...this massive, eternal, pulsating, living thing was too much. It was awe-ful -- because it both felt like the kind of thing that induces awe, and was simultaneous the worse feeling I’d ever felt.
But there was the oddest juxtaposition in my consciousness.
While terror and despair oozed forth from the far away Ego Erick, my Awareness was at the forefront, and it was verbing something very different.
My awareness was still, calm, and whispering the one word that truly saved me during this experience.
“Love... Love... Love... Love...
Love... Love... Love... Love...”
While Erick, far back in the ocean of my mind was being torn asunder by the gravity of this state, my Awareness, with the stability of a full moon in the night sky, sung “love.”
Another very odd experience I had, is that I kept hearing my body say “mhmm,” as if some part of my mind that I had no conscious access to was aware and learning something interesting. Some part of me was in a graduate level course in “Studies of Eternity.”
It was so odd, hearing my mouth involuntarily say “mhmmm,” over and over and over.
I feel compelled to revisit the most significant thing about this experience. There were no borders, no edges, no containers. Without those, we cannot perceive, we cannot think, we, our ego, cannot exist or function. Our entire conscious life functions because of our borders -- in perception and thought.
Yet...in the wake of this absolute chaos...Awareness still existed. Awareness still functioned.
From an experiential standpoint...I think this is why people think this is preparation for death. The ego absolutely cannot function in this state. You, the ego, dies. And I think the experience of Awareness still existing is interpreted as the experience of the soul. You, as awareness, do not die in this state.
There was a moment, after 60 or 70 minutes of objective time, where I felt like I could think again. I, the ego, was coming back. I viscerally felt my brain rebooting the “there are objects and there are edges” program.
As soon as this program came back on, my mind did a thing.
I saw them.
Looming over me, one to my 3 0’clock, and one at my 11 o’clock, where two huge black figures. They were shaped like humans, but did not feel like humans.
If I added anything else here, I’d be lying.
I didn’t feel anything from them, I didn’t experience anything from them. I didn’t see them move or try to communicate -- but they were there. Huge, powerful, and they did feel like they were watching me.
Soon after that, I begin to feel my body again. I began to be able to think.
At first, I didn’t believe it. Every thought had a feeling of Deja vu, like the very act of thinking was creating and what was being created was what I thought, so everything felt like a loop.
I thought I was insane for a couple moments -- which is funny -- my mind came back to me just enough for my mind to be able to worry that it was going crazy.
I made my way to the bathroom and something about being sick grounded me. I was back, in my body, ill.
Even though I was beyond exhausted, totally fucking exhausted, I just wanted to be around people. So I drugged my body to the dining area and sat with my friends for an hour or so.
I don’t remember anything I said or did in there, I just remember how I felt.
I was so fucking grateful to be back in my mind that made sense. I was grateful to be around people I loved. I was grateful there were people, that there was love. And I was even grateful I had a body that could be sick.
Day 7: Feeling Like Lazarus
The next day, I did nothing but sleep. I think I slept for 18 hours that day. My body had been decimated. My mind had been obliterated. My soul had been liberated.
And I needed to sleep.
Day 8: Departure
Today we leave. I’m still sick. I still just want to sleep, but we had to pack, say our goodbyes, and travel.
I hugged every human there I could find. I loved all of them. I respected all of them. We all shared a single week-long experience that had brought forth my greatest love, greatest fear, and greatest clarity.
They were a soul family I’d be bonded to for the rest of my life.
And then there was Don Howard Lawler.
Never have a met a human like him. And this goodbye was different. I felt from him, a sense that this would be the last time he’d see us. He’s at the end of his human existence, and with his level of awareness, he seemed to know.
As I hugged him for the last time, he looked me in the eye and told me;
“You’ve got the warrior spirit, brother. You have all the tools you need inside you. And remember...the warrior’s heart beats as one.”
I’m never going to forget those words.
As we pulled away from Don Howard and his beautiful family, I wept. I wept because now I understood. With the end of the Huachuma Mesada came context, came an edge, came a border. And with that, came a sense of understanding.
The weight of this week, the lessons, the love, the trials, they pulled on my soul.
There’s a quote that beautifully captures why I wept.
“You get a strange feeling when you are about to leave a place. You’ll not only miss the people you love but you’ll miss the person you are now at this time and this place because you’ll never be this way ever again.
There is a piece of me that will live in that jungle for eternity. A piece of me died there. And the significance of this week will be known in the reverberations I make in the coming months, with what I do with the new mind, heart, and soul I’ve been shown.
As always, thank you for reading. If you have made it through this labyrinth of words -- I see you, I respect you, and I love you.
I hope you get the chance to step into sacred spaces with people you love. I hope you get the chance to meet men and women who have stepped outside of time and who have brought back sparks of eternity in them. I hope you realize all the ways you hide from loving fully, and that you drop those fears and beam light into every corner of the world we live in, a world that is so full of fear and darkness.
I thank you.
I love you.