Deep in the Amazon jungle, writer Kira Salak tests ayahuasca, a shamanistic medicinal ritual, and finds a terrifying—but enlightening—world within.
No one will help me!” the little girl wails in my vision. And now she is me—I am wailing. Crying like I have never cried before. I know it as an expression of primordial terror from a time when, as a small child, I felt abandoned, set helpless before the universe. I have never felt such profound fear. How did this happen to me? the adult me wonders with fury. And why?I think. But wait a minute—what are Hamilton and Don Julio doing in my vision? How can Hamilton see what I’m seeing?
“The darkness was so heavy during your childhood,” a spirit voice says to me, “that your soul splintered beneath the weight.”
I have an awareness of having lost so much of myself. Who will I be when all the parts come home? I feel a hand on my back: Hamilton’s. “I’m here to help you,” he says. Suddenly, the flames trapping the little girl disappear. Everything is covered in a freezing white frost. I shiver from the intense cold.
“Julio and I have frozen the devil,” Hamilton declares. “You can pull the little girl out now.”
So that’s why everything got so cold,
“Pull her out,” Hamilton says to me.
I reach down and take the girl’s hand. When she feels my touch, she stops crying, and I pull her up, out of the tunnel of fire. The darkness departs. We reach realms of bright white light—the first such places my visions have allowed. The heavenly realms.
“Your little girl has to enter your body,” Hamilton says. “Call to her.”
I do. I see her split into several little girls, each looking like me at a different age. One at a time, they appear to enter me, my body jolting backwards for each “soul part,” as Hamilton calls them, that was retrieved.
As soon as they’re done, I see a vision of them. Dazed by the brilliant light of their new world, the girls walk through green grass, under pure white clouds. Scores of butterflies land on them, smothering them. It is an unbelievably perfect place in which there is a sense that nothing could ever hurt me.
Only one ceremony left and I haven’t yet experienced God. The shamans say they see him all the time; Hamilton suggests I visit him. Strange: Though I can’t say conclusively whether he exists, I’m angry with him. If God is out there, I have a few bones to pick with him.
The ceremony begins with the usual tedious blackness. I keep sending it away, but it reappears in its myriad forms: bats, demons, dragons.
“God!” I yell out in my vision. “Where are you?”
But only darkness. The seemingly endless darkness. I’m getting more and more aggravated. Why do religious people always say that God is there for you when you need him? Well, he’s nowhere. Just serpents and those little demon guys.
All of a sudden, I realize that my fears about his not existing, about my not being able to find him, may be thoughts created by dark spirits. I release those fears and immediately I rise higher, into white realms. Through a hazy gray cloud, I can see a vision of a white-bearded man—God? Appearing like a giant Santa Claus. And while I’m sure the way he looks is a stereotyped invention of my mind, a kind of visual distillation of something wholly beyond conception, it’s bizarre to be talking to him about my problems.
“Why did you hate me so much?” I demand.
“I never hated you,” he says. “You hated yourself. I have always loved you as my own child. Know that suffering is the greatest teacher on Earth. It leads us out of our belief in separation.”
I don’t know what he means by “separation.”
Darkness falls. I can’t see God in my vision anymore. A scathing pain rises in my chest—the most excruciating pain I’ve ever felt. I squeak out a cry to Hamilton and he comes over, singing spirit songs. Legions of demons sail out of my body. I’m helpless before them; they contort me.
I’m made to see that what is being purged now is a deeply rooted belief that I don’t deserve to be alive, that no one can love me and I will always need to justify my existence. Slowly I gain the upper hand over the darkness and order it to leave my body. I feel a pressure in my chest that could break all my ribs. I grab my bucket, vomit out what appears to be a stream of fire. Hamilton kneels down and blows tobacco smoke onto the top of my head. I cough violently and watch as demons burst out of me, roaring, only to disintegrate in white light.
And before me this enormous image of God. He takes me in his arms and coddles me like a child. I know, unequivocally, that I am loved and have always been loved. That I matter and have always mattered. That I’m safe and, no matter what happens, will always be safe. I will never allow myself to become separated from him again.
As the visions fade and the ceremony closes, I find myself back in the dark hut. But in my mind’s eye I’m still sitting in God’s enormous lap. Don Julio nods and silently smokes his mapacho. The others whisper about their experiences. Winston still didn’t find a way out of his darkness and will extend his time in Peru to do more ceremonies. Katherine sighs luxuriously: She’s been bathing in the heavenly astral realms, having broken through her own issues. Lisa’s darkness hasn’t let up and it’s still my fault; she, too, will be staying in Peru for more shamanistic work.
Me, I’m ready to go home. I sit up with difficulty, as if waking from decades of sleep. It would be easier for me to call it all a dream, a grand hallucination. Then I could have my old world back, in which I thought I knew what was real and unreal, true and untrue. Now the problem is, I don’t know anything.
It takes almost all the energy I have left, but I feel around for my flashlight and shine it into my vomit bucket. No. I lean down closer. Steady the beam of light. I catch my breath as I examine the object: A small black snake seems to have materialized from my body.
Via National Geographic Adventure (here)