a whisper in a wind tunnel
Part I - The Great Abyss
All that constitutes life is an individual’s illusion.
In an instant, time stretches into infinitude
and the illusion called life
evaporates like breath on a winter’s day
or melts like butter,
unravels like silk.
Paradoxically, this illusion —
this whisper in a wind tunnel
is our only anchor
in the Great Abyss.
Bufo Alvarius, commonly known as Bufo, is the dried venom of the Colorado River Toad containing the psychoactive alkaloid bufotenin. Bufotenin or 5-MeO-DMT - also known as the “god molecule” - is perhaps the strongest psychedelic currently known to humankind.
In Bufo alvarius: The Psychedelic Toad of the Sonoran Desert published in 1983, a daring psychonaut named Albert Moss explained how to extract, dry, then smoke the toad’s venomous secretions. Hearing “toad venom,” some might confuse Bufo with Kambo (South America) - where practitioners apply poisonous frog secretions to burnt skin - but unlike Kambo, smoking Bufo is (as far as I’ve understood) unaffiliated with any indigenous medicinal tradition.
On a side note, repeat accounts support the notion that spiritual entities are attached to certain psychotropic indigenous plants. That is to say, after ingesting one of these plant medicines, participants describe encountering a similar spiritual presence at some point during their hallucinatory journey. Repeat accounts also support the notion that these spirits are either masculine or feminine in nature: Ayahuasca (South America), for example, often appears in the form of a woman. Peyote (Mexico) and Iboga (West Africa) manifest as grandfatherly men.
But Bufo’s spiritual entity is debatable. One can extract Bufo from either a male or a female toad. One might say that the spirit of Bufo is far from human, rather, it’s the toad itself (although the toad is unlikely to appear at any point in the journey). Like Tolkien’s premise that only the humble are capable of yielding great power, it’s extraordinary to think that a toad produces a molecule that can instantaneously dissolve the human ego.
I was terrified before I smoked Bufo. While scouring the internet in preparation, I typed “Ayahusasca versus Bufo” (I had experience with neither) and I stumbled upon a Lithuanian woman speaking about her experience with the two medicines, stating that she prefers Bufo because she tends to fight more with Ayahuasca. She described Bufo as a tidal wave that just takes over. But I also discovered accounts of people who resist Bufo. Once the medicine is in their system - my friend Jason described it well - they find themselves in what feels like a glass fishbowl where everything looks distorted.
Apparently, as the sensation grows stronger, these people feel increasingly disturbed, even delusional. Some of them may become physically violent. Facilitators will repeat to them, “Let go, let go.” Jason explained, “You don't want to let go because you don't want to die, okay?” Ultimately they realize that they have to let the medicine take them because, well, they have no choice.
This is not the case for everyone: some people resist but others experience the aforementioned tidal wave and go under immediately - this was the case for me. Hoping to avoid the purgatory stage entirely, my attitude was, “Just take me.” I equated my sense of submission to the moments I was about to have surgery and go under anesthesia. The thought was, “Take me under, I'm fine. I don't want to be here when you slice me open.”
As the tepid glass pipe approached my lips, I thought, “Whatever happens is meant to happen: I'm ready.”
I imagined falling into a net
made out of the hands and arms
of all the people who ever loved me.
I was ready to be baptized.
I was ready to be born anew.
Some may say that Bufo smoke doesn't taste like anything, but I found the smoke very acrid and difficult to inhale. My lungs clenched up. Everyone surrounding me chanted “More, more! Take as much as you can, take as much of the smoke as you can: more, more! Now hold it, hold it!” Someone behind me plugged my nose.
As soon as I exhaled, I exited my body, the maloca, and this planet. I instantaneously found myself in a mysterious and enormous abyss. I didn't feel any sense of traveling there by propulsion or flight. I opened my eyes and I was in a strange place, a vast expanse that looked like outer space without any stars. It was total darkness and complete silence. One might experience a similar sensation of immensity standing above the Grand Canyon or on top of Mount Everest - but this felt a thousand times bigger than that: the feeling of infinity is difficult to describe.
The moment I dropped
the thing I clutched onto so tightly
I didn’t turn my head
to look where it landed
because I knew
it was already a hundred thousand miles behind me.
As soon as I found myself in this outer space, I felt the melting away of my entire life. It really felt like a nanosecond of everything melting. It wasn’t forceful. It wasn't an explosion. It was elusive - like I was wearing a silk nightgown that suddenly slipped off of me. But I had no sense of being naked or even having a body. When my ego - at the time I called it “my life” - slipped off of me like a silk nightgown, suddenly I felt weightless... but definitely not carefree.
In retrospect, I understand the Lithuanian woman’s comparison between Ayahuasca and Bufo. There’s nothing very elusive about Ayahuasca: with Ayahuasca, if you want to clean up your room, you have to pick up your dirty laundry, piece by piece. It’s eight hours - if you’re willing - of deconstructing your fears and doubts, layer by layer. And each layer (so to speak) is filled with intense sensation.
With Bufo, the journey to a state of egolessness (some might call it “zen,” others may call it “death”) is effortless and immediate. In the blink of an eye, this medicine took me to what I can only describe as “the other side.” For a split second, I thought about looking back at the life that slipped off of me, but I knew that it was already light years behind me. I was traveling in outer space, yet I was completely still: I became outer space. Very large concepts - like reason, truth, or control - disappeared. “Control is just an illusion,” is easy to say out loud but with Bufo, the truism resonated in every molecule of my being. But instead of feeling at peace with this realization, I felt sadness and shame that I would attempt to control anything in the first place.
Here I was discovering something (infinity? the universe?) so substantial, so profound yet instead of feeling in awe, all I could feel was ashamed of the former life that was far behind me.
I wondered, “Why didn’t I know about this (expanse, infinity) before?”
I thought, “Why did I hold on so tightly to that life? Those things? How could I possibly think that any of that was important?!”
Apparently, I was talking out loud. My friend Meg said I was audibly lamenting, “Why do I feel so much shame? Why do I feel so selfish?”
The main facilitator, Juan David, replied, “I don't know why you feel selfish. You tell me!”
According to Meg, I replied, “I don't know!”
Floating in the abyss, I somehow felt the presence of those around me and I thought, “All of you people knew about this place and you didn't tell me?” Again, I was ashamed of my ignorance.
In fairness to my friends, it is futile to explain this sensation to anyone in words. It has to be experienced, firsthand.
I wouldn't call it a “bad trip.” But it was alarming and I wasn't prepared. I came back to consciousness and it took me a few seconds to process where I was. The people around me softly chanted, “Love, light, compassion, and forgiveness,” as if I was battered and wounded.
Then Juan David chimed in, “Sweetheart, we think you need more medicine.” He was already heating the glass pipe.
“Okay,” I replied, understanding I had so much more to learn.
Part II - The Rock
The Rock is the anchor
an identifiable landmark
passed on from one generation to another.
It grows the more we confuse
I inhaled more, but this time I did not go up into outer space. Instead, I went down, way down into the dark infinite space that was my body. Similar to the first inhalation, this experience was less visual and more about feeling.
I felt a vague sense of movement. Suddenly I thought, “There's something like a fossilized boulder that's stuck down here. What is this thing down here?” I felt the weight of it. It felt dense like it was compacted with hundreds of years of memories. Most of all, it felt like it had no purpose: it was like digging a garden and discovering a large boulder near the soil’s surface.
At this point, I'm oddly in and out of consciousness. Either I’m looking at the people around me or I’m deep diving into my body, trying to relocate this solid mass.
Everyone was still chanting “Love, compassion, forgiveness...”
“Yeah, guys, I know I get it. I get it up here,” I pointed to my head.
“But there's something stuck down here,” I motioned around my lower abdomen, “Something is stuck.”
Acting on his instincts, Juan David quickly grabbed a tepi pipe, “Don’t breathe in,” he warned and he forcefully blew rapé up each of my nostrils, twice. The sensation of the tobacco pulled me back into my body.
In an odd turn of events, I got on my hands and knees and I started heaving and trying to push this thing out. I moaned and wailed like I was in labor - I had zero qualms about what a spectacle I must have been to the twenty people surrounding me.
I locked eyes with two of the older women and I said, “This is like giving birth to the child I never had.”
Everyone around me rooted, “Come on, Sarah, get it out. You can do it. You can do it!” They massaged my back. I was wailing, pushing, and heaving, but the solid mass felt stuck.
A spiritual presence looked down on me. I said without fully knowing or understanding, “I need Ayahuasca.”
My twenty minutes or so in the center of the maloca was over. When the facilitators lifted me up to escort me back to my mat, I rolled on my left ankle as soon as I attempted to walk. Oddly, I lost all feeling in my left foot up to my calf.
Back at my mat, two women watched over me including Meg, who sat beside me. Finally, I vomited what appeared to be yellow bile.
Meg exclaimed, “Yeah, there you go. Good. Get it out.”
And I muttered, dizzy, “This is only the tip of the iceberg.”
I laid down in a fetal position. I was hot. I took off my tee shirt. My body was shivering. One of the women gave me a wedge of clementine and it tasted like the first time I ever had citrus in my life. Other participants and facilitators came by to congratulate me, “I'm so proud of you. That was so inspiring. That was so amazing. You did such amazing work. You're so brave. It was beautiful to watch. You’re a warrior.”
I Iooked outside at the sun peering through a tree. I felt a soft breeze on my face that I immediately interpreted as Mother Nature’s coy embrace. Then I felt a tear rolling down my cheek.
I thought, “I survived. I'm back on this planet and she’s with me, always.”
It was a moment of pure bliss.
Part III - The Ground
The softness of wet sand
lightly tugging on my bare feet.
The heat of the gravel road
attempting to break my bare heels.
The softness, the pain,
The warmth, the cold
The wet, the dry
Remind me of this planet
That I am here.
In the first part of the experience, when everything was stripped away, shame was the only thing that remained. In the second part of the experience, the medicine revealed that the shame is, in fact, a rock buried deep inside my body.
The key message was that for so long, I've been psychoanalyzing to heal - I've been up in my head. I never really dug around in the silent space of my body or even fathomed that my body could hold onto shame or trauma.
So then enters the notion of “grounding.” Meg, a gifted bodyworker, would repeat to me over and over again, “Grounding, Sarah, it’s all about grounding.” Until Bufo, I never fully understood what grounding meant. When energy is so cerebral - when we overanalyze or get stuck in our heads - grounding pulls the energy back down into the body. When we’re disconnected from the ground, then it's easier to become disconnected from the middle space where we unconsciously store so much emotion.
Bufo’s lesson about grounding was, in essence, “If you want to dislodge this thing stuck inside your gut, well, learn how to walk again.”
I never read or heard any account of people losing sensation in their limbs after Bufo. I connected the numbness in my left foot to an issue two years prior when I repeatedly sprained my left ankle. At the time, my ankle wasn't healing: I went to physical therapy, I got x-rays, and no one could really figure out what was going on. So one day, I decided to simply forget that my ankle bothered me. When Bufo dissolved my ego, it also shut down whatever denial mechanism I employed to feign strength in my left foot.
At the end of the day when we were ready to leave the ceremony, I could still barely walk. When I put on my sandals, I once again rolled on my ankle. I took off my sandals, felt the ground with my bare feet, and regained my footing. When I put my sandals back on, I lost all sense of stability: my body protested anything that disconnected me from the ground.
By this point, Meg was tramping back to her jeep, which was parked far away on a rugged gravel road. She said, “Come on, Sarah, let's go. I want to go home. I need to get out of here.”
And I stammered, “Meg, I'm sorry. I can barely walk.” I felt slightly insane. “I can’t wear my shoes.”
So I trailed far behind Meg, walking barefoot on this long gravel road. The road felt hot, jagged, and painful on my bare feet... but my body craved the sensation.
It became clear to me: “The rest of my time here, I'm going to walk barefoot every morning on the beach.” I realized there’s a second brain in my feet that wants to feel the earth. It wants to feel whether it's sand, whether it's rocky, whether it's wet, whether it's hot or cold. My feet want to feel everything.
The second brain needs to be activated in order for the consciousness to be pulled down into the body. When the consciousness meets the feet, it passes other regions along the way - the heart, the solar plexus, the sacrum. I didn’t understand “grounding” prior to Bufo and Bufo decided to make the lesson very clear.
Part IV - The Great Shining Light
The Great Shining Light emanates
from every pore of my sacred being.
It calls lost travelers into port.
It blinds me.
I was forewarned that I would be very sensitive the following days after Bufo. I was told that at least two to three nights after the experience, my dreams would be very intense. The day that I smoked Bufo, as night began to fall, I was terrified: suddenly I felt like a child afraid of the dark who wanted to sleep in between her parents. The earth seemed like a foreign planet. I forced myself to vomit hoping that I’d purge whatever this was .
Eventually, I was able to fall asleep but Bufo was not done with me: as soon as I reached a certain dream state, I returned to the same dark infinite space that I experienced earlier in the day. I was so frightened that I woke up. I checked my phone to look at the time and I couldn't see anything. I looked through my bedroom window and I couldn't see the moon or the electric lights outside.
I thought, “Okay, I'm blind now.” Oddly, I didn’t panic and I went back to sleep.
I quickly returned to the dark infinite space in my dream.
I felt the presence of some of the ceremony facilitators: Serge, Katerina, and Bob.
I felt Serge look at me and ask, “What are you so afraid of?”
And I replied, “Nothingness.”
Katerina consoled me, “Don't forget to breathe.”
And then Bob added, “It's going to be okay, kiddo,” and I was lulled into a more comfortable state.
When I woke up in the morning, I could see again.
The next evening when I went to bed, I felt more receptive to whatever dreams would come. All of a sudden, I was back in the dark infinite space. But this time I looked down at my body and it was the most blinding light I've ever seen. I gasped and I woke up.
At that moment, everything became clear. I wrote in my journal, “It’s one thing to love yourself, it’s another thing to be love.”
The next day I told Meg, “I can never return to the way things were before.”
Part V - The Midwife
She’s with you in the forest,
She’s with you in the supermarket,
She’s with you when you say, “I love you,”
She’s with you when you’ve had enough,
She’s always with you.
The first time I drank Ayahuasca, nothing happened as far as I could perceive. The second time, a week after smoking Bufo, it was one of the most intense experiences of my life.
And as I predicted, Ayahuasca really tackled the shame that Bufo so acutely revealed to me. She was like a jackhammer that filled my body with so much vibration that the rock started to break apart. She chipped away at any sense of, “I'm not deserving,” at all the things that wouldn't let me enjoy that weightlessness, at all the things that wouldn't allow me to relax. Whatever guilt or shame, whatever it was, she just hammered away.
Towards the end of the eight hour ceremony, she said, “Sarah, we have more.” Completely gutted, I replied, “Listen, this is all that I can handle,” and I vowed to work with her every day, for the rest of my conscious existence.
It’s been almost a year since I smoked Bufo. The further I step away from this experience, the more I want to remember it - writing it down feels like a service to myself and I hope, somehow, a service to others.
I’d like to give special thanks to Juan David Alvarius, his team, and the amazing people at Om Jungle Medicine for providing the ultimate safe space.
Your question might be, “What compelled you to do something like this in the first place?”
I was about to turn forty, I felt stuck in my life, and I wanted a radical shift in perspective. After Bufo, I returned to the city where I live and I felt highly sensitive to energy. Suddenly what felt wrong and right in my body took precedence over what felt wrong and right in my head. I made life-changing decisions without much of a plan because some part of me has learned how to trust and another part of me now fully understands the impermanence of existence.
Since Bufo, I take long walks every day where I’m conscious of every step. Whenever I feel consumed by the minutiae of my everyday life, I have a dark infinite space that I can return to, where everything melts away.
“It is because I dove into the abyss that I am beginning to love the abyss I am made of.”
― Clarice Lispector