Mother Ayahuasca

3monkeyGlennA line of candles on sticks light the trail to a clearing deep into the woods. The light is already fading on a warm July evening. At the centre of the clearing is a large newly lit fire. Twenty or more people sit or lay down in a circle around the fire.

A slight build, dark skinned man sits smoking a long pipe. He has a proud feathered headdress peaking perhaps two feet above his head, his face is painted, his clothes are patterned with bright whites and cool and dark blues. Under his necklaces I see images on his top that look familiar. Before I’m able to identify them the shaman starts speaking. A young woman translates his native Portuguese into English: ‘You must stay in the group until morning when the ceremony ends … Do not wander off into the forest away from the circle … If someone needs help, even the person next to you, do not help them – anyone needing help should raise their hand and I will come.’ The shaman then tells us he has been a shaman for more than sixty years, since he was eight. I wonder, is he trying to reassure us? I don’t think so. As I digest these words the images on his top are suddenly clear; two stormtroopers from Star Wars. Wow, really! And yes of course that is Darth Vader standing behind them. Odder still is that I find this somehow reassuring.

The forest has transformed, the fire is a giant coiled anaconda watching me amid the flames, the shaman is an icaro bird singing and dancing, calling to the forest. The sound of retching circles around the group, participants trying to hold down the thick bitter brown liquid; it’s mostly dry retching as they’ve not eaten since noon. The retching becomes a sort of wordless somatic conversation. My body responds with laughter. The conversation moves on; someone retches, I laugh, others laugh, someone moans. This is Mother Ayahuasca at work. I realise my laughter is joy. I’m not laughing at others’ discomfort, their retching noises or the irony of medicine making them sick. Joy was bubbling up as laughter. I realise joy makes no room for, nor has need of, empathy. Ah yes! Joy, not empathy. Ah yes to respond with empathy only reaffirms the dichotomy of the ‘healer’ and the ‘sick’.

My ‘intention’ or question for this ceremony was about how I approach my work. I was seeing how my question is based on the duality of ‘me and my approach’; with this thought, two things happened. I thought ‘I can’t wait to tell my therapist; he’ll love it’; immediately a voice in me blurted out ‘He doesn’t exist!’. More laughter, more joy. ‘I’ve made him up, of course; of course he doesn’t exist.’

As I lay back tucked into my sleeping bag my joy went from laughter to a stream of emotionless tears. ‘He doesn’t exist; neither do I.’ As Glenn slipped away, this whole night as an experience slipped away also. I saw the sky and canopy reaching down towards me, the trees and smoke dissolving into vibrant living patterns tracking back down where I lay. As I closed my eyes I felt ants crawling on my face, there was nothing there, I could see in my mind’s eye tiny creatures knitting together and unpicking my mind, wave after wave of patterns swept over me.

As I opened my eyes I saw my favourite painting hanging from the consulting room wall. Under it, on the sofa, sat Lena where I’d left her, wide eyed looking expectantly at me. ‘You went to sleep.’

‘Was it for long?’ I was still getting my bearings.

‘No maybe two minutes or so, no more.’

‘It felt like ages, really deep but, yeah just a few moments …’

‘So, did you dream?’ she asked with her eyes fixed on mine.

‘Yes.’ I paused, waiting for words to come out of my mouth.

‘So what did you dream?’

‘That’s just it; I don’t think I’ve stopped.’

Glenn says

ayahuasca is classified as a class A drug in the UK and is therefore illegal. In the Amazon it is treated as a potent medicine. It is unclear what the legal status of ayahuasca is if the boundary between dreaming and waking life has dissolved.

 

All rights reserved © Copyright Glenn Nicholls 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author of this post is strictly prohibited.

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You know the answer

Portrait_002In June 2018 my dream book came of age. During ‘our’ journey together over the last twenty-one years I have discovered a rich, individual and personal internal language of signs and symbols – from good-willed kingfishers to impossible Escheresque staircases leading to the summit of the world.

There is a humorous statement in traditional psychotherapy that says people in Freudian therapy have Freudian dreams and those in Jungian therapy have Jungian ones. While this brings a smile to my face it’s good to notice that Jung never claimed, as Freud did in 1895, that he had ‘discovered the secret of the dream’.* In fact Jung stated he wasn’t sure that his way of dealing with dreams should be called a method at all.**

Humankind has sought to understand dreams for many millennia – the psych professions are just one of the most recent to get involved. Dreams have been of interest throughout various civilisations including Indian, Chinese and ancient Egyptian cultures. Dreams were seen as important in Babylonian and Assyrian texts and, in early Mesopotamia, there where comprehensive and sophisticated explanations for dreams.

If we move away from the ancient or exalted views of dreams, what is left? A succession of internal pictures, feelings, sensations? Simple, individual stories that happen to us and us alone when we close our eyes? Or, perhaps a defence against our own awareness or fear of the aloneness at the centre of all human existence?

Neurobiology brings more concrete information about brains while dreaming. For instance, brain activity during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep – when the majority of dreaming occurs – is most like waking brain activity. But, when science leads us towards a reductionist view, we don’t often gain much succour.

Over the twenty-one years I’ve been taking an interest in my own dream life I have come to realise there really is a personal exposition going on. When I ignore my dreams, I am switching off from a health-creating audit.

I used to cycle along a quiet riverbank, lined with trees, twice a week to get to my therapist’s office. Over the years I did this, I often noticed an amazing turquoise flash of feathers as a kingfisher worked the bank and stream. Over time I began to associate seeing the bird (or not) as a sign of what was to come in my session.

In a quite revelatory dream about a big decision I needed to make, the kingfisher began to show me the way along a very difficult route. He would temporarily perch and wait for me to reach him. Then, he dipped his head as if to acknowledge me and flew on. Repeating the process many times together we ascended a stony wooded rise. As we neared the end of the tree cover, he settled on an old stump and knocked his beak like a woodpecker. To my amazement the tree stirred into the form of a wise old Jewish man who ‘smiled’ but said nothing while radiating an exceptional and acceptable warmth.

I make no secret of the fact that depression first brought me into my own therapy. What I have rarely spoken about is the way that depression lifted. From the moment I realised that the kingfisher was an individual, personal symbol for my wellness, showing me the way forward, twenty years of depression began to lift.

During a long running series of dreams spanning almost two years, the kingfisher delivered me to a series of places where the old Jewish man could be found; very often the old man, in turn, led me to a shining pearl that I would pick, like a berry from a tree.

During the final dream of the series the bird delivered me to a complex house set over five storeys. On the top storey a wooden machine of cogs and levers was shown to me. Disappointed that I hadn’t found one of my pearls, I began to wind the wheels with the help of the Jewish man. As the light poured in through the opening roof it became darker in the attic. Once fully open I looked up into the now dark sky just at the moment that the aurora borealis began. Instantaneously I understood the symbol of the pearls. Since that dream I have never again experienced proper depression.

The kingfisher began to visit my dreams again recently. He tapped out in Morse code a German phrase, Du kennst die Antwort (You know the answer) … I expect that exciting times are just ahead.

* Freud, S. The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Words of Sigmund Freud, Vol. IV, First part, The Interpretation of Dreams (1900).

** Jung, C.G. (trans. 1966) The Practice of Psychotherapy, from Collected Works of C.G. Jung, Vol. 16.

Duncan recommends

To reach your inner dream world and begin finding your own answers, you might like to read Carl G. Jung’s Man and His Symbols widely available online and in book stores.

 

All rights reserved © Copyright Duncan E. Stafford 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author of this post is strictly prohibited.