To date, this blog has served as a record of illustrations produced in accordance to the topic of its title for the purpose of explaining a series of methods used to fulfil a Master’s Degree in Illustration and Design. The topic has now been taken to PhD level, where progress will be made where the M.A has left off, with the intention of hopefully utilising illustration and design to promote cultural and spiritual values over the economic. Following from now, this blog will narrate the journey that the PhD takes.
During the gap between the M.A and PhD, much personal exploration and development has been attempted, in regards to philosophical viewpoints and spiritual awakening; both of which are strong themes within the work. One of these explorations has been in the participation of an ayahuasca ceremony – a shamanistic ritual in which the participant must adhere to a strict ‘dieta’ for days beforehand and focus on spiritual intentions before receiving an extremely potent psychedelic brew which induces a 4-6 hour long journey into deeply burrowed subconscious knowledge, allowing the drinker to explore fully the source of many problems that they may be carrying around in their everyday life without being consciously aware, while simultaneously dissolving boundaries between the concept of ‘self’ and of nature.
While there are many theories on the concept of the brew as a teacher/healer/educator, the account that is to follow is described as a narrative of my personal experience as understood at the time of it’s happening and after over a month of processing. Nothing stated in the account is presented as objectively correct, and similarly nothing is stated with interpretative symbolism, unless otherwise stated. The account is simply a record of some of the personal research that has and will continue to fuel the progress of the project.
Self is God is Truth is Love
In order to drink ayahuasca, it is important to follow a strict diet for around a week beforehand, which doesn’t allow any meat or animal products, soy, fermented products, salt, sugar, processed food, alcohol, etc. This is because there is an enzyme in the stomach called ‘monoamine oxidase’ which destroys the psychoactive aspect of the brew on contact (DMT) which needs to be switched off using an ‘monoamine oxidase inhibitor’ which reacts badly with many of the food types listed due to the amino acid ‘tyramine’ that is present in many of the foods. In addition to this, the idea of the diet is to allow for sensory stimulus to be abstained in order to put the drinker more in contact with stimulus of an introspective nature, in preparation for the ceremony (sexual stimulus be abstained for 3 days before and after the ceremony in addition to the dietary restrictions). On the day of the ceremony, the drinker must fast in preparation for the night to allow for a much cleaner ‘purge’ (a very common effect of ayahuasca that is seen as a large part of the progress).
After a full days travel, I arrived at the location weak from the constant switching of transportation vehicles and lack of food, and simultaneously unsettled with nerves, excitement, and adrenalin. The ceremony began with introductions to the others in the group and a smudging, which involved the burning of sage – which is believed to purify each individual and ward off any ‘bad spirits’ that may appear during the experience. About 22 participants, 6 ‘helpers’, and 2 shaman where situated in a large secretive area with their sleeping bags and materials around the floor, as well as buckets and toilet roll.
The ceremony takes part with everybody dressed in white, each going up to alter where the shaman serves the drink after blessing each cup, and then going back to their allocated areas to begin journeying.
After about 20 – 60 minutes the effects of the brew begin to come on. In my case i felt a strong sense of physiological bliss and comfort in my own body, which in ordinary states of consciousness is something which i tend to struggle with and have insecurities about. I felt a joy in the sensations of my face smiling, which felt like an unfamiliar expression and presented itself as a foreign aspect of my life that i had to allow to make more familiar. While many around me began to vomit (the purge – commonly understood as the removal of the psychic toxins from the individual in a physiological output) i felt like i was enjoying the experience without the need to purge, which I had attributed to my following of the diet and instructions. The ceremony was to take place over 2 nights, and while in this state I made an agreement with myself (which seemed to have a sense of dualism) that I would spend the first night enjoying the experience, and the second night dealing with the issues that I had come to solve in the first place.
After some time, I began to feel that it was fear that was holding me back from dealing with the serious ideas that I had intended to solve during the journey, and felt that the only way to allow myself to deal with the issues was to surrender – to purge, however i felt that i couldn’t physically do so. I saw others around me having a difficult time, and believed i could send them positivity through my intentions which would be received and accepted. I waved my fingers in the direction of those i wanted to give positive energy to, as well as the shaman, who i wanted to thank for the initiation of the experience. At this point, the shaman stated, “we’d like to invite anybody who wishes to do so to come up for a second drink. Some of you might need it”. Accompanied by my feelings on overcoming fear and dealing with the issues i had set out to solve, i felt that this was a sign that i had to take a second drink to break through into another realm in which i could solve what i had intended to solve.
After taking a second drink, the nausea began to intensify, with the fear that the brew may initiate the purge to be released out of an alternative exit (also common with ayahuasca) which i thought may be relevant due to my problems with IBS. At this point I lay down in my sleeping bag with the bucket handy, continually sipping drinks of water and feeling the strong desire to vomit, but without the capability. I began to wretch into my bucket – my eyes filling up in the process, and inside the bottom of the bucket visions of Hindu imagery emerged, alongside many psychedelic colours and shifting patterns and shapes. I continued to experience this which felt frustrating, as i believed i could make progress if i could just vomit. I felt that i was going to need to the toilet at this point, and asked a helper who was rubbing my back at this point for ‘strong man’, who was another helper of a muscular build who was there to assist those who were unable to walk. I was told, “You are strong man”, which i translated as meaning i still had work to do.
I lay down and started to sense a navigation around an alternative environment, with continuous references to Hindu imagery and geometric shapes/sacred geometry. At this point i began to sense an accumulation of all the negativity that I hold towards myself as a force that i could observe from a 3rd person perspective – a sense of social class insecurity and shame, parental issues – body insecurities appeared to me as meaningless by-products of sensory experience that had accumulated over a sequential exposure to stimulus which was created artificially by culture and environment. This was presented as the ‘ego’, and i knew at this point i had to let go of this and destroy it in order to attain ‘enlightenment’.
Ayahuasca doesn’t appear to work in the time frame that we do, and so much of the experience is difficult to articulate chronologically. The experience felt as though it was coming in phases, and as i got deeper into it I was looking back at my past experience of what must have a couple of hours prior as though it was weeks ago, and felt embarrassed for having felt the egotistical sense of being relatively enlightened, which it felt as though the spirit of the brew was aware of and had intended, to indicate how much I am attached to a sense of identity which I have created for myself, or rather, which culture and experience has shaped me into embodying.
At various points i felt as though everybody in the room was waiting on me to ‘breakthrough’ into something, and as though everybody was fully aware of the experience i was undergoing and the difficulties of the journey, and where supportive of me to finally ‘purge’. Thousands of voices circulated around me saying supportive messages and assuring me that I ‘will come back’, and i began to be unable to distinguish my own identity from the concept of ‘love’, repeating the mantra ‘I am Adam, Adam is love’. It was revealed to me that beneath all surface material of cultural identity and social manipulation, every individual is simply ‘love’, and that the only truth in the world is love. It appeared in an equation of; self = god = truth = love.
As i was told i was love I was assured that I didn’t have to worry about anything in my life that was to come in the way that I was, and that I should eradicate all self-loathing as (it was suggested) that it was clear to everybody that I was a good person and that everybody recognised this love within me. The assurance and relief if this notion sent me into fits of blissful, mournful tears – at both the alleviation of all the suffering that had been psychologically endured throughout time and at the deep rooted guilt for having reflected such negativity at myself from the perspective of my identity, and not my actual self (love).
The happiness brought about through this was expressed like an animal cry, in which i felt vibrations centred around my heart chakra where releasing waves of colours unimaginable in eternally expanding outward circles, filling the world with the love i now believed to be truth, god, and self. I felt that those who had supported me where very proud of me for having come to this realisation and sense a female maternal energy whispering to me messages of complete and absolute love and assurance. I felt as though i was swimming in the waves of beauty and information that was so far beyond me that I had to learn to forget to try to understand it and merely accept and trust it, to drown in it – and each time i did i fell into an even more insane sense of astonishment at everything there was that i was being shown, while saying “you are so right”.
The Fear of Death
After experiencing this, my full body was going through fluctuating temperatures, and i was being supported by shaman and helpers, who cooled me down using water. The realisation of the inaccuracy of the self-loathing made me continue to erratically cry as a form of purging, but i felt that once i located this negative force (which i came to realise was my entire identity) i had to control it, grab it, and finally purge it out of my system by vomiting. Although i couldn’t identify this at the time, i had an awareness that if i purged, i would die, and i felt that i had to accept my own death.
While in this state, i had to deal with the terror brought about through the knowing that i was going to die, which i now understand to be the death of my ego, and was working my way with each wave of intensity into controlling myself and being able to prepare for the purge that i felt everything was building up to – that would lead to me dying.
I felt that every time i went for it and believed i was ready that i failed, and i was unable to vomit and let go, which i found extremely frustrating. At around this point i began to slowly sober up, and remember being surrounded by people who were asking me questions like ‘What’s your name?’, ‘How old are you?’, to test that i was OK, as i found i had been journeying for around 6 hours at extremely high intensity. Everybody around me was very calm but exhausted, and i was disappointed that i didn’t manage to purge and eradicate what i was now informed was my ego.
I felt deflated, confused and embarrassed directly after the experience, which can probably be attributed to my lack of understanding of what had happened, as the memories of the experience gradually have come back to me over a series of time, and continue to do so on a daily basis.
The experience in its entirety was extremely challenging – dealing with the human condition of embarrassment and fear of what is unknown about what you may have said or done that you’re unaware of, accompanied by the questioning of who you really are and disassociate sense of loss.
For about a week after drinking the medicine, i dreamt each night that i was dying a blissful death, and felt confused again when i woke up. While all this sounds negative, it leads to me to consider all aspects of myself from a much more objective standpoint, bringing awareness to all my reflections of self.
It is difficult to know with certainty if the messages i felt i learned from the experience are to be taken seriously, or if i was simply just ‘tripping’, but i instinctively and intuitively feel that something spiritually profound happened, and that contemporary culture is a hallucination and not a realisation, rather than vice versa. I still feel unable to fully integrate the messages of ayahuasca, and probably go through the issues that appeared more now than i did before, however it is known that ayahuasca should be dealt with in sessions, and rarely does a one off encounter facilitate any change. It requires a series of encounters over time for real healing to happen.
Until i next feel brave enough to undergo another journey into the eternal cosmic psychedelic abyss, I intend to practice the lessons that i have been taught the best that I am able. Perhaps there may be another method of accessing the state through alternative means that i can tap into. My belief going forward is that if nothing else, I need to remember and respond to the world that the only real truth that there is and ever will be is love.