This trip report is going to be the longest I’ve written because this trip is the longest I’ve experienced. This is part 1 of 2. I did my best to keep it as short as possible while conveying my experience. I also did my best to structure it and write it in a way that makes the reading as easy as possible.
Thank you for your curiosity and attention.
I love you.
The ritual experience I was invited to partake in is called “The Huachuma Mesada.” It is a week long ceremony recreated from an ancient Peruvian shamanic lineage called the Chavin. The magician-masquerading-as-human who researched and manifested this ceremony for us goes by the name Don Howard Lawler.
The Huachuma Mesada is comprised of three “on days” where we drank the plant medicine Huachuma, with a rest day in between each, (for integration and recovery). At the end of the last “on day”, we snorted another plant medicine teacher called Vilca, which is 5-MeO-DMT -- the most potent psychedelic on the planet.
It cannot be understated -- witnessing Don Howard manifest this ritual and use it as a psychedelic container has forever changed how I view ingesting these plants.
I’ve be exploring altered states of consciousness for years now and none of them have had the kind of ritual sacredness I experienced at Spirit Quest Sanctuary.
In my wilder moments, I get to thinking about the alchemists and the philosopher's stone. The central myth of the alchemists is that, if one just got the chemistry right, one could create a stone that had the ability to transmute any material into gold.
Well, I think the human nervous system is the philosopher's stone.
I think ritual and ceremony is the alchemist’s chemistry.
And it is our experience that is the material we turn from ordinary to divine -- from crude to gold -- from profane to sacred.
And my week in the jungle has sparked in me a new desire to practice this kind of alchemy -- to find and create the rituals in my life that will transform the ordinary into the sacred.
The Teachers and The Structure
So this trip report makes sense, I’m going to introduce some plants and core ideas around the “Huachuma Mesada” ritual that Don Howard put us through so that you know what the hell I’m talking about.
Huachuma is the original name for the plant most know as San Pedro. When the Spaniards came to South America and witnessed the amazing changes in consciousness this plant could create, they named it after Saint Peter, who is the gatekeeper of heaven. Let that marinate for a moment.
The active ingredient in Huachuma is mescaline. It is consumed as an oral drink. We took Huachuma every other day for 6 days, totaling in 3 ceremonies. It lasts between 8 and 12 hours.
The other primary plant teacher involved in the Huachuma Mesada is Vilca. Vilca literally translates as “The Sacred” and it was used by the ancient Amazonian tribe, The Chavin, for thousands of years as a shamanic teacher on how to die and move into the next realm of existence.
The active ingredients in Vilca are 5-MeO-DMT, N-N DMT, and Bufotenin. It is consumed as a nasal snuff. We did it once, on the last Mesada. It lasts between 50 to 80 minutes.
I’m going to be honest and let you know that my understanding of what a Mesada is still feels fuzzy, and I encourage any who read this who may know more then I, to reach out and help me fortify this section.
As far as I understand it, the Mesada is the spiritual theme of the day. We had three Mesadas (the three days that we drank Huachuma).
1st Mesada: Yacumama ~ Mother Spirit of the Water
2nd Mesada: Sachamama ~ Mother Spirit of the Earth
3rd Mesada: Huayramama ~ Mother Spirit of the Air
Mesa literally means table...and Don Howard Lawler has the dopest table I’ve ever seen. The Mesa is where we started each Mesada, it is where we drank Huachuma each day, and it is where we snuffed the Vilca that obliterated my ego for 80 minutes. On it, he has ancient artifacts from other temples, the skulls of other shamans who’s lineage he carries onward, and it will likely be the table his skull will rest after he passes and his daughter carries on his legacy.
The Offering and Request
At the start of each mesada, as we are standing in front of the mesa, we are asked by Don Howard to offer our “Life’s Mission” to the Mesa and Huachuma, and that if we’d like, we may ask for something in return.
This is an important part of the ritual. It is where we get to clarify our life’s purpose, and it is where we get to set our intention. I loved this part of the dance, and I’m going to make it a pattern I carry on in all my future uses.
Day 0 - Awareness
There is a motif in shamanism that the medicine begins working on you the moment you decide that you will do it. For me, this was most apparent the day before leaving for Peru.
A bunch of my beautiful friends organized a large going-away dinner for this version of my Ego Story (most of them knew the reputation of Vilca for psychologically killing the individual, and they were there to say goodbye).
Dinner was amazing, and something very weird happened.
While having a conversation with my friend Clif, I recalled my most traumatic childhood memory effortlessly, and knew it would be what I’d confront on Vilca.
My Spiritual Trauma
When I was 7 or 8, after having a poor version of Christianity introduced to me, I began thinking about Heaven and it’s promises while I lay in bed at night.
I got to thinking about what eternity meant -- what it really was.
I imagined going to a place in the clouds, where all the best people lived. There was only love and happiness, and that we lived there forever.
I’d really try to think about what forever was, and I would cry.
I cried because of what thinking about forever made me feel. It is a feeling I still can’t quite wrap language around, but it’s a feeling that hurts. The closest I can get to it is a kind of divine futility. Maybe something like what a character in a greek tragedy feels if they witness that their fate is set.
The idea of forever wounded my young mind in a way I still don’t quite understand, and after I’d cry for 20 or 30 minutes, I’d pray to the God that I believed sentenced me to this fate to please help me stop thinking about it so I could sleep.
This happened a few nights a week for a month, and then it faded into my subconscious.
The insight at dinner however is how I never connected this fear to my adolescent atheism. It was so obvious now what drove my obsession with cultivating my rationality, logic, and debating skills.
As a teenager, I was an atheist on fire. I read the philosophers, honed the skepticism, and sought out any who claimed they believed and would debate them. The teenage Erick thought he was a grand illuminator of truth, but what I was realizing at dinner was that I was actually an existentially wounded 7 year old desperately seeking shelter from Eternity under the hood of my growing prefrontal cortex.
Something in me knew that my week in Peru was going to bring me face-to-abyss with Eternity again, that I’d need to put down my shield of logic, and stare the dragon in the eyes.
“The difference between a man and a King is that a King does not look away.”
-Lady of the Lake, King Arthur Myth
Then after dinner a second serendipitous pre-Peru departure healing happened.
My Physical Trauma
I ended up getting a ride home from a woman I had just recently met at dinner because my friends wanted to continue their night. Chance had it (and Carl Jung called chance his God), that she was a trained Gestalt Therapist, and to keep this brief, she helped uncover more core Ego Erick beliefs that became major themes on my trip to Peru.
She helped me see that since my sport injuries, I began to fear my body and retreated to my mind.
In highschool, I was just good enough at basketball, and just dumb enough about the state of the world, to truly believe I had the chance to play professional basketball. I dedicated my entire young life to this goal and as a junior, I tore my right rotator cuff and never fully recovered.
I resisted the evidence for a fear years, but slowly it dawned on my young ego that this dream was dead. It took years to realize that since my injury, I had condemned my body -- blamed it on some level for not being good enough.
It sounds cliche to write that now, but when I was in the car, and I heard myself say aloud “I’m afraid of my body.” Something significant shifted. It was like, now that I finally said it out loud, the healing process could begin.
My Emotional Trauma
She also, with surgical insight, helped me realize the major scar on my heart. She noticed that a motif in my self talk is the will to want to perceive or see everything (lol at the quote I dropped above), and she mentioned that may be a sign that “something hurt you that you didn’t see coming when you were younger,” and instantly the weight of the truth of her words caused a deep exhale to leave my body.
I thought about the girl I was in love with in highschool. On a summer night before senior year, after 4 years of a relationship swaying between lovers and friends, we kissed for the first time. It was one of the most emotionally charged moments of my life, and then she pulled away, looked me in the eyes, and spoke 4 words that destroyed my ability to love for a long time.
“I don’t feel anything.”
In hindsight, I love and respect her honesty, but in that moment, my heart had never felt that degree of pain. As she drove me home, I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t feel. I told her, for my own healing, I couldn’t talk to her, and for years, I didn’t forgive her.
However, eventually, I did. As life put me in her shoes in other relationships, after eating mushrooms a couple times, and as I developed a little, I understood her, and with understanding, came forgiveness.
But a scar had remained.
I’m very hesitant with giving romantic love. I overflow with love for my friends, but when it comes to romance, I tread very carefully, and I knew this would be something huachuma would bring up.
So in one night, the medicine brought to the surface my major spiritual trauma, my major physical trauma, and my major emotional trauma --- and also each of the coping mechanisms I developed in response to those traumas.
In the face of Eternity, I hid behind Rationality.
In the wake of physical injuries, I learned to suppress my body’s energy.
In the aftermath of romantic rejection, I become hyper obsessed with being able to read people and only loving when it felt safe.
The positive is that my rationality has taught me discernment, suppressing my body has connected me to my awareness that transcends my impulses, and my ability to read people has helped me become a competent psychologist.
The negative is that my rationality has made me blind to a great degree of the human experience, my suppressing the body has disconnected me from the primal masculine power I’m capable of manifesting, and my need to read people has kept me from cultivating love with others when reciprocation wasn’t certain.
Huachuma and Vilca, the great plant teachers I was going to visit, knew these were the classes my soul was enrolling in, and the curriculum was ready.
Day 1: Arrival
After a 3 hour bus ride from Austin to Houston, a 6 hour flight from Houston to Lima, sleeping overnight in Lima, flying for 90 minutes from Lima to Iquitos, taking a bus for 30 minutes from the airport to the river, then taking a boat 30 minutes down the Amazon river, we arrived at Spirit Quest Sanctuary.
The major theme of this full day of traveling arose on the 6 hour flight from Houston to Lima.
I had never flown on an international flight, and the one we were on had a television screen on the back of every seat. We had the ability to watch from a great selection of movies, and this presented an opportunity I’ve never had before.
I was able to see, in real time, dozens and dozens of people select the myths they wanted to step into. It was such a beautiful metaphor for how we all live our lives.
We each are like the human in the seat, peering through a very specific lens, watching a mythic slice of the world we all share. We project all our emotions and desires through the little lens we have onto the characters and stories we see.
I choose Interstellar as my in-flight myth. It reminded me why I do the medicine work I do. It all comes down to the children I hope to have one day. All this work, all this reading and writing and learning, I do it for my children. I’m grateful I got to be reminded of this as I descended upon the jungle.
Day 2: Water Mesada (Day of the Mind)
Today is the first Mesada. This is the first time I get to witness Don Howard in his role as shaman, and I was fucking blown away.
Outside of the ceremony, Don Howard does a good job pretending to be an old man from Kentucky. He is not that. Whatever he is remembers how to be that. Who he really is comes alive the moment you step into the maloka (the room that has the mesa we drink huachuma at.) When we are in the maloka, the timeless shamanic king inside him comes out in full force and he becomes the absolute epitome of ageless masculine grace.
As a part of the ritual, he has everyone sit around the mesa. All the women are on the left side of the Mesa, and all the men are on the right.
First he blesses the mesa with tobacco, then the huachuma. After this, he begins to pour the amount he feels fits each person, but before he does this, he pauses...slowly turns to the person he is going to pour for, and looks at them in the eyes with an intensity I have never encountered in my entire life.
No human has ever looked at me like this.
When he looked at me, I did not sense a man looking at me. There was no man. What looked at me was a force of nature, something ancient and powerful and massive. It was as if a legion of guardian spirits and shamans sat directly behind his eyes channeling their power through him (even as I write this, the rationalist in me feels I’m exaggerating and yet my heart knows I’m not even close to grasping the power of this stare.)
He saw what he saw in me and poured my cup. As I walked to the front of the mesa, my entire field of vision blurred expect for the jaguar poster that hung above the mesa. I looked into her eyes and offered my mission statement for my life:
1st Mesada Offering
“I’m trying my best to manifest the kingdom of heaven.”
(For more on what this means, I explain it in my Ketamine trip report here.)
1st Mesada Request
I had an elaborate plan for what I wanted to ask for, but as I stood at the foot of the mesa, it didn’t feel right to ask for anything other then “Truth.” So that is what I asked for...Truth.
It took about another hour for everyone else to get their Don Howard Soul-Staredown and cup pour, but once we all did, he told us to get our things and meet at the boats.
Boat Ride Out
Don Howard knows what he is doing.
Each Mesada, after drinking, he has us all get on motor boats that glide us along the Amazon river for 30 to 40 minutes while the Huachuma begins to enter consciousness. These boat rides became the place where my deepest thoughts and visions for the week occured.
This first boat ride out gave me a deep philosophical gift that I’ll offer here but may be interesting to only a few.
I’m obsessed in this life with understanding the nature of the human psyche as much as I can before I die. On this first boat ride I had an insight.
The primary “will” of the psyche is the “will to adaptation,” and as the stability of the organism reaches a certain point, consciousness is able to manifest. Once consciousness manifests, a second “will” begins to form, and its the will to grow (my mind offered the term “the will to ascension.”) This is the drive we all have to grow or develop.
A metaphor for this idea is that the psyche is like an anthropomorphic ship.
At first, it is only concerned with having enough structural integrity to float (this explains why the infant will learn any kind of programming if it helps it adapt at all, like fearing authority or hiding behind mother, etc), but once it does, it’s next “will” is to move towards some new point -- a metaphysically higher point.
As long as the structure is stable enough, the secondary will drives the organism, but if stability begins to breakdown, the will to ascend evaporates and the concern again is stability.
(As you can see, the first Mesada was a lot of thinking...I was defending myself from the experience by analyzing and thinking.)
We Arrive at the Tribe
Finally we landed. I found myself repeating “Will to Adaptation. Will to Ascension.”
Don Howard has brought us to an indigenous amazonian tribe, to see how they lived, to witness their traditions, and to buy arts and crafts from them.
I was feeling Huachuma very clearly now. The effects are hard to describe but I’ll do my best.
If you imagine your perception is like a movie theater goer, that the screen is what you visually perceive, and the person watching the film is your internal judge, who comments and judges what's on the screen, I might be able to explain.
Most psychedelics noticeably alter the way the projector creates the way the movie looks, and it can make the person watching the movie very giggly, or very afraid.
Huachuma is different. The movie projector seemed completely accurate, but it was a little brighter, a little cleaner, and a little more glittery. And the moviegoer...he felt much, much more clear. Like he’d been meditating, fasting, and hadn’t a need in the world.
Things felt clear, and I felt committed to try and uphold my request at the mesa: to witness “Truth.”
At one point, I begin playing with one of the tribe’s children. He was maybe 6 years old, barely 3 feet tall, and adorable.
He had a beautiful blue bracelet he had smiled off of one of the Westerners. He would walk near me, toss the bracelet up 2 or 3 feet, catch it then my eyes, and giggle. Without language needing to be shared, I knew what was happening. He was asking me to play.
After a few more tosses, I lunged and snatched the bracelet inches from his hands and he erupted in laughter. I’d give the bracelet back, he’d toss it again, and I’d snatch it again, and we’d both laugh, again.
Soon the game transformed. We began walking away from each other slowly, and instead of both competing for the bracelet toss, we began tossing it to each other at greater and greater distances.
There was something timeless about what was happening. We were two nervous systems, using what we had, to play. The reason we play is deep and old. We play to hone our nervous systems, so that we can hunt and fuck. That may be crude to some, but that is the core function of our meat suits, and I don’t think that diminishes the visceral joy that was coming from both of us.
Soon, another interesting transformation of the game occured. A 2nd boy saw our fun and walked next to the 1st boy and began competing for the bracelet toss. This boy was a little older, a little more athletic, and consistently caught the bracelet over the 1st boy.
After 2 or 3 tosses, something interesting happened.
The more athletic boy moved a couple feet from the 1st boy to allow us to each toss to each other -- to cooperate.
It manifested organically, and, in hindsight, it blew my mind how beautiful this gesture was. There wasn’t this will to compete here like there would be in the States.
But then I did something I regret.
I distinctly felt the moment where I realized the boy was offering us a game where we would all share, and I distinctly remember having the choice, and choosing to toss the bracelet equally between them...so they would compete.
And the moment I did that, the older boy dropped back to his original position...and for the rest of the game they competed for the bracelet.
I saw absolutely clearly, that within me, was something that chose competition over cooperation. I still am not sure what to do with this, but I felt it needed to be shared here if I am committed to being honest.
After the game, I began walking a path through the jungle back to our main gathering area when I noticed a much younger boy following me. He was maybe 3 or 4, and I felt that he had thrown something at me. I turned around and saw that the little boy had pulled some sticky plant “stuff” off a tree, clumped it together, and made a ball. He saw the game I had played with the older boys, and he wanted his turn.
Something about this made me cry, and I began tossing the sticky plant ball with him.
At one point he missed my toss and this sticky plant wad stuck to his hair and one of the most surreal moments of my trip occured.
I had to squat down and slowly untangle the sticky plant from his hair and I felt a timeless and primal program click in me. I was a monkey grooming the hair of another monkey, as our ancestors have done for hundreds of thousands of years. It was such a weird but satisfying feeling.
As soon as I detangled his hair, he ran off.
Thank you boys for your lessons.
This was my saddest moment of my trip.
After my game with the children, I had returned to this tribe’s version of a town square. It was a large hut that served as the central gathering area.
I was sitting on a bench, just existing in the raw awareness of huachuma when I saw a small dog. Earlier I had noticed how this little guy was treated. You learn a lot of about a family by how the youngest human treats an animal they have power over.
This dog was not treated well. It was handled with the same care a 3 year old carries an old ragdoll that’s lost it’s magic. It’s coat was dirty, it’s ribs shown, and it walked at the edge of human engagement with a caution an abused animal learns.
I was sitting next to a plastic bag with banana peels in it. The dog, once it sensed I didn’t mean it harm, began to rummage in the bag for food. There were only banana peels, and the dog ate them with the intensity only something starving could.
My mind whispered “will to adaption,” and I just cried.
Did this conscious creature choose this life? Did I choose mine? Is there cosmic justice? Is this entire thing of God, and one with God, and is this animal’s condition perfect? Is it good?
I didn’t know and I didn’t care. I cried for this dog’s existence. I cried for my fortune and gratitude and seamingly god-like luxury.
I also cried because I had tough medicine to accept. I asked for truth and huachuma gave me truth.
It felt as if huachuma itself began speaking in my mind.
“You cry for this dog, but you will not save this dog. You will not care for this dog, adopt this dog, and heal this dog. You’ve claimed you are a bodhisattva, but you are not -- and this is okay boy. You are a human who is concerned with humans. In this life, you’ve chosen to help heal western culture.”
There wasn’t condemnation or judgement in this voice, it was just truth. It was showing me, and my ego, that I was, and am not, as noble as I like to think.
As this dog lay in the dirt, with slow labored breath, attempting to digest the fiber it wished were food, I continued to cry. As a child threw dirt on the sleeping dog because it seemed dead, I continued to cry. As the child began to yell to older children to look at the dog that had not responded to his dirt throwing, I continued to cry.
I had asked for truth, and truth I was given. I’m here to help in this life, but I need to not exaggerate, I need to be honest. I am not a bodhisattva, I am a human obsessed with human psychology, who is trying to help the psyche of western culture.
And that’s okay, boy. It’s okay to cry in the wake of the truth that you aren’t all that you thought you were.
Thank you little one for your teaching.
At some indeterminate point after my spiritual class with the dog, the tribe we came to visit begun it’s presentation.
I grew up in Wisconsin for most of my childhood, and once a year at my school, the local native american tribe would come and show us it’s traditional dances and customs.
I was good friends with one of the boys who would transform from schoolmate to exoctic feathered drummer and dancer.
I’d watch his face during the ceremonies. I didn’t have the words for it then, but what I saw was the same face I’d make when my mom asked me to perform something in front of her friends while all I wanted to do was go in my room and play Pokemon.
As this tribe’s chief began sharing his tribe’s story, I saw passion and love and a man actively overcoming his fear of speaking, but as his speech gave way to the children performing their dance, the energy in their faces reminded me of my friend back in Wisconsin.
These children are in an impossible spot, one that has fucking consumed the West many years ago.
They have their culture, their tradition, and their myths -- but they’ve tasted cell phones, computers, and mainstream media’s myths. And there is something in our modern luxury that is a tradition devourer. The feeling of the Sacred has withered in the wake of Modernity.
These children are stark, shimmering symbols of Nietzsche's “God is Dead...and we have killed him.”
Most culture’s ritual, myths, and gods have lost their visceral connection, and I saw it in these kids.
All this being said, they enjoyed themselves. They danced, they sung, we all joined, and it was beautiful. Their tradition isn’t completely dead, it just is trying to compete with the techno-orgy the West has produced.
At one point in the tribe’s presentation, they began playing drums and Aubrey started dancing. What began as some fancy footwork and spinning turned into him ecstatically dancing in the center of all of us with a fervor I have never, ever witnessed.
The dance was legendary, and I have no doubt that when the final period is placed on Aubrey’s life story, he’s going to be a legend too. I’ve never met someone who has chosen to take on as many burden’s as he has, who gives as much as he does to as many people as he does, and who has a demon on his back as large as he does, that he’s learned to tame.
It’s an honor to get to witness.
Boat Ride Home
As the sun was setting, we started heading back to our boats.
The sky was gorgeous, and as we began gliding home, I couldn’t feel anything other than sheer gratitude. The weight of my experience was hitting me.
I’m in the fucking Amazon rainforest. I’m in the midst of Don Howard’s ancient plant medicine ceremony with some of the most incredible people I’ve ever met.
I got to thinking how could I possibly repay this fortune.
And the answer came effortlessly.
“Your medicine is to witness, articulate, and share the human experience as honestly as you can.”
This felt like huachuma talking to me, and it felt like a deep gift.
My mission, my what, is to create the most effective psychological system for treating depression, and I’ve known this for years.
But tonight I was given my Tao, my how. The way I, the ego Erick story, can best sing my song while I go for my life’s mission, is to be as clear and honest a communicator of the human experience as I can.
That’s what I think this -- this writing right now -- is. I’m Ericking.
And so, between happy crying, jamming out to my Peru playlist, and appreciating the divine feminine feeling of the wet curves of the Amazon river, I smiled at knowing my way.
And we docked.
As we were getting off the boats, Don Howard told us to meet back in the maloka in an hour.
We snacked, showered, and giggled the whole way back to the maloka for that evening’s closing ceremony.
It was jungle dark by the time we all got settled, and the only light was candle. The mesa, with all of Don Howard’s artifacts, looked like the center room of an ancient temple. It felt like one too.
The huachuma was still pulsating through my veins and consciousness. I felt light, full of love, and still in possession of a clarity that was uncanny.
Don Howard was back in his Eternal Shamanic King vibe, and he directed us to stand at the mesa, letting two fingers from each hand rest on the table, and to meditate.
We all took turns doing this, and the entire experience lasted about 2 hours. I had two very interesting insights I want to share while I stood at the mesa.
Both felt like they were answers that came outside of myself, but the moment I “received” them, my rational mind began judging whether they were legitimate or not.
First, I felt like I was told how many children I’ll have. Four.
Next, I was told that my first child would be a girl, and her name would be Aryn.
I don’t know what to make of this. My rational mind is a fucker, and he doubts these insights, but another part of me is very relaxed and calm, in the background of my psyche, grinning.
I suppose we’ll see.
As the evening commenced, we all hugged each other and headed to dinner.
Day 1 with huachuma, the day of the mind, was complete.
1st Mesada Summary
This was absolutely my most heady huachuma day. I was trying to be a writer, philosopher, and journalist all at the same time.
I truly enjoyed myself, but in the wake of what day 2 was going to be, I realized in hindsight that I was protecting myself from love and vulnerability by trying to think and analyze everything.
If you made it to this point, I fucking love and admire you. I hope this provided you value, and please, feel free to reach out and share your feedback.
Thank you for your eyes, minds, and heart.