The following text is a eulogy for a former life, an individual account of a collective experience. I write these words with deep reverance, love, and respect for Meg, Jason, Matilda, Angel, Ronnâ, Ann, Katie, Bob, Serge, Katerina and of course, my family: my brother for his pure heart and most of all my parents for the life that they gifted me and their infinite love ...
It’s very difficult to do this experience justice with words.
It was precisely during this experience that I learned that words - the things that I assemble and release out into the world to convey meaning - words are just another faulty human construct that can hardly capture the true essence of things.
“Oh shit, I’m vomiting all over myself in child’s pose. Child’s pose.... Who decided to call this child’s pose? What does this evoke about being a child? What were they thinking?”
“Stop talking Sarah,” she said.
Or I said.
Are we one?
“Let go of these words, stop trying to describe this with words, just sit with me in silence and feel.”
“But I’m vomiting all over the floor,” I lamented. “I’m making such a mess on this beautiful wooden floor.”
“This floor was built for you, to hold you here and now.”
I felt the floor on my cheek, its molecules softly pulsing against my palms, the sweet odor of its lacquer filling my nostrils. Suddenly, as cliché as it sounds, I was one with the floor, one with everything.
“This floor, these wooden planks, the tree that they were cut from, the sapling, the seed...”
The entire lifecycle of this tree flashed before my eyes. Its fate connected to my rebirth - our paths connected by a divine order that suddenly I was clued into, that suddenly I could perceive.
From my sacrum to my crown, she pushed through me like a tidal wave in the shape of a giant serpent.
“Now I see why they call you a snake,” I smiled.
“And you’re an eagle,” she smiled back at me.
The universe split open like a fallen fruit. There I was, an eagle bestowed with immacuate vision, looking down on myself, this blue-green gem of a planet, and all of clumsy human civilisation.
“Look what words do,” she admonished. Then I felt all of human warfare, modern and prehistoric, pass through me in the blink of an eye. “All the bloodshed!” I cried as I felt it in every cell of my body.
I was flooded with vibrations, a thousand messages per minute. The moments I felt overwhelmed or undeserving of this divine intervention... I’d vomit again.
At one point, I was pummeled into a state of complete disconnect until I heard the words of the most elder shaman echo within me as if they were the only things I could cling onto in a bottomless well. I could feel him holding me in his arms. He spoke his native language Yawanawá but it didn’t matter what language he spoke: I understood that he was taming the snake woman and I understood that he telling me to get back up and continue fighting.
In that moment I could have understood any language.
In that moment, I understood that the essence of understanding is feeling, not words.
Words seem so inaccurate and oftentimes futile.
“God,” for example, is a strange word...
Pockets of my old self appeared that evening: my old self that was knowing enough to stumble along a path, step by step to that very moment.
I understood, from an early age, that I could never be a complete person without some notion of god. Although my god isn't a man with a beard - nor is it a human being - my god is the simple acknowledgment that there is something much more significant than myself.
My “self” being this tightly wound bundle of ego, experiences, constructs, culture, and civilsation.
My refusal to accept things at face value hit a wall during my teenage years. At the time, my Dad, a paradoxically conservative but very sensitive man, recommended a book, Notes to Myself: My Struggle to Become a Person by Hugh Prather:
"It's not that we fear the place of darkness, but that we don't think we are worth the effort to find the place of light."
In my early 20s, my angst devolved into depression - the kind of depression where I didn't want to get out of bed, not even to go to the bathroom. It seemed I wasn't ready for the adult world, or the adult world, as it appeared, wasn't ready for me.
So I resisted it.
At this point, I saw a psychotherapist for the first time. Marybeth. The moment I met her, she handed me her business card. Its catchphrase: "Specializing in gifted adults."
Marybeth was a practicing Buddhist, perhaps the only Buddhist for hundreds of miles in Evangelical North Florida. She had a large selection of Buddhist texts on the bookshelf in her office. And when I asked if she could recommend one, she didn't hesitate when she handed me Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior by Chögyam Trungpa.
It seemed like a giant step from "bedwetter" to "warrior," but at this point, I was open to anything.
He writes, "Warriorship is a continual journey. To be a warrior is to learn to be genuine in every moment of your life."
At age 39, I took much needed time off from my 9-to-5 job - six weeks - to visit my friend Meg in Costa Rica. To make Meg’s long story very short, she is an Ivy League graduate, a former high-earning adverising strategist who threw away her corporate life to become a massage therapist in Central America.
I witnessed her transformation with plant medicine and I wanted to follow suit. "I need radical healing,” I told her.
Less than a week after landing, Meg and I participated in an outdoor Ayahausca ceremony in the middle of a sweltering cacti labyrinth. Beyond repeatedly batting off mosquitos, nothing ostensibly happened.
Lying on the ground next to a rather unfriendly pochote tree, waiting for some radical shift in perspective, I instead revisited some tedious thoughts about my job. Only this time I noticed that the thoughts turned comically visual: I swam through spreadsheets, underlining the existential meaninglessness of it all, I turned into a pinball in a pinball machine, haphazardly bouncing around collecting points. At one point, I pictured myself a Futurama “head in a jar,” sitting at a computer without a body. I wasn’t hallucinating but the metaphor-making part of my brain seemed highly stimulated in response to my boredom.
I didn’t vomit like the people around me. I expressed my concern to the abuelo and the abuela administering the medicine. The old man spit tobacco on me, felt my scrawny but muscular forearms, told me that I’m a strong woman but I had no joy in my eyes.
“After this evening, the new chapter of your life begins.”
When I paced back and forth from my yoga mat to the bathroom, I said to their translator that I felt nothing and I questioned whether I had too many expectations.
She snapped at me, "You have such a brillant light that everyone can see except you. The medicine isn't working because you're completely disconnected from your inner child."
Her forthrightness shocked and disturbed me.
I paid around 300 dollars to learn what I already knew: that I’m a miserable person.
After that evening, the new chapter of my life did in fact begin.
My uneventful Ayahuasca experience led me to the unorthodox decision to smoke dried venom collected from a Sonoran toad - Bufo Alvarius - 5meo-dmt - also known as “the God molecule.” If Ayhuasca didn’t work, this surely would.
Why? Because after 39 years, I felt tired of living a life of driven by fear: I was a pawn dependent on a false sense of security provided by a conformist, patriarchal, capitalist system. My work filled me with bitter resentment - I was living someone else’s dream - I felt a gutteral sense of shame whenever I told anyone what I did for a living. I felt like I'd been denying myself my power, my human essence, and creative gifts for as long as I can remember: I needed something, anything, to break me from this spell.
And I had only four more weeks in Costa Rica.
I was selected to go first in a group of eleven people - apparently I couldn’t hide my nerves from anyone.
"Here goes nothing," I thought.
I sat down in the middle of the maloca and was instructed to read out loud a long prayer about love. I couldn't hold back my tears.
Upon barely inhaling this acrid vapor, I was knocked out like a light. In my altered state of consciousness, I opened my eyes to discover a vast and dark expanse that was greater than anything I could describe in words. It was like outerspace without stars. And in less than a split second, upon arriving in this vast abyss, I felt my entire life melt away instantly. That stuff, whatever it was, that thing called "a life” had no relevance once confronted with the sheer enormity of this place that I could only describe as “the universe.” Is this what death is? There was no control in this place, no order, no sense, no truth, no construct, no reason; there was only Nothing.
Serge - a ceremony assistant and a friend I met a few weeks prior - was hovering somewhere next to me in this space. I looked at him, or I felt his presence: clearly he had been here before. I asked him a flurry of questions through some form of telepathy, , "Why didn't anyone tell me about this place before? Why didn't anyone tell me that the life I was living was some kind of joke? Was it all a joke? Please forgive me," I begged. I could feel Serge shaking in his head in silence. There were no words.
Clearly what didn't melt away in this dark and infinite space was my sense of shock and shame. I wasn't aware but my friend Meg informed me that I was crying out loud, "Why do I feel so guilty? Why do I feel so ashamed? Why do I feel so selfish?" She later told me that she could barely watch me because she was sobbing.
"When we are afraid of ourselves and afraid of the seeming threat the world presents, then we become extremely selfish. We want to build our own little nests, our own cocoons, so that we can live by ourselves in a secure way." —Chögyam Trungpa
When I came to, I opened my eyes to Serge and a group of strangers chanting "Love, compassion, and forgiveness." My first reaction was, "Who are these people, and where am I?" I looked up at Juan David, the main practitioner, and he said, "Sweetheart, we think you need more medicine," and suddenly I was inhaling more of this stuff.
Only this time, I dove deep into my body until I stumbled upon what felt like a fossilized, hardened mass at the bottom of my sacrum. Wavering in and out of consciousness, I said to everyone around me that I had to "get it out," and what proceeded was a kind of metaphysical labor where I kneeled on all fours, wailed, heaved, pushed, and pulled this thing with the encouragement of everyone around me. It wouldn't budge.
"I need Ayahuasca," I blurted.
I’m not sure if I really knew Ayahuasca - especially after my failed first experience - but I felt her presence in the maloca. I noticed Angel, the founder of the maloca, looking straight through me with her blue eyes that are like the color of the clearest day. She knew.
When I was assisted back to my mat, oddly my legs felt like noodles and I could barely walk. I finally vomited something deep and foul but I understood that I had only scratched the surface. I lay down in fetal position and looked at the sun peering through a tree. Suddenly I felt a soft breeze caress my cheek which could have only been Nature's embrace. There I was in this body, this vessel, alive on this pulsing planet. I felt tears softly falling one by one as I lay there in a complete awe of this thing called Life.
Jacob, one of the other particpants sitting next to me, smiled,
"Girl, you are a warrior."
When I tell this story to friends back in my "normal life," they have difficulty imagining the scene.
"Wait, where were you? How did you find this place?
"What's a maloca?"
"How did you know about this place?"
"Wait, can you describe the scene?"
"Wait, so you smoke one by one?"
"People watch you?!"
The first thing that people cannot seem to fathom is the prospect of being unconscious, having no control of their body whilst being observed by a large group of strangers. I was equally skeptical. The day prior I thought, "Maybe I can pay extra to do this in private... "
Before arriving at Om Jungle Medicine in Alajuela, Costa Rica, I had very little concept of community. I've always been so introverted and shy. I've been skeptical of group dynamics because I don't like hierarchies or feeling pressured. I cut myself off from communities because I thought they were spaces of codependency, full of people who fear loneliness and use others as a means of escape.
When I think about this now, I realize that there are a series of traumas attached to these judgments; indigenous medicine makes these attachments alarmingly clear.
By the end of the Bufo ceremony, eleven strangers hugged each other like long-lost friends. We held each other without judgment in our most vulnerable states: we assembled in this maloca by some divine order.
The days following that experience, I could barely walk. An ankle injury that I thought had healed years prior suddenly returned. My feet begged to touch the ground. I vowed to walk consciously for the rest of my life.
When night fell, I felt terrified, like a child, like a snail without a shell. I vomited again. When I finally slept, I immediately returned to the abyss, and I was again, terrified. Only this time, I could hear the voices of a few of my friends,
"What are you afraid of?" asked Serge.
"Nothing," I said, "Nothing with a capital N."
"Don't forget to breathe," said Katrina.
"It'll be okay, kiddo," said Bob.
I woke up, and I was blind. I felt around for my phone to check the time, and I couldn't see anything. Complete darkness.
"Okay Sarah, you're blind now."
I closed my eyes and went back to sleep.
When I woke up again, I stepped outside to listen to the sound of the ocean. I laid next to a gangly old dog sleeping on the ground and thought,
"I understand you; I understand every fiber of your being."
The second evening I was awoken by another dream. Only this one was because I looked down at my body and was blinded by the most powerful light I've ever seen.
I thought, "Why would I deprive anyone of this luminous light?"
Loving yourself is one thing, but realizing that you are love itself is another.
"Don't strive for love, be it,"
At times the medicine squeezed me so violently in her grip that I dangled by a thread, a fragile thing like a powdery butterfly wing flapping in a storm. I don’t know how many people approached me, two, three, four, and I heard the voice of the eldest shaman - he spoke to me in Yawanawá, a language that I suddenly understood. He was connected with an otherworldly realm, taming the medicine spirit, telling her to be gentle, telling me to be strong.
Work in progress, to be continued...