Ayahuasca Monologues: I Think I’m Dying, But It’s Okay

Natural Medicine Ayahuasca
Wikimedia Commons image

Bill Kennedy
Reality Sandwich

Three years ago I moved to New York from St. Louis.  A week later I went to the subway at four in the morning and the platform was empty except for a book. It was a sci-fi choose-your-own-adventure book. I still have it. A year later I found a room in a loft space with fourteen other people. Outside the front door, painted on a gas pipe were the words “choose your own adventure.” I knew I was in the right place.

The fourteen people that lived there ranged from raw foodists and foot fetishists to message therapists and yoga teachers to numerologists and astrologers, hailing from places like Korea, Australia, Chile, and Canada. Then there was me, the Midwesterner who’s into baseball, red meat, money and partying. The loft’s website coined the space “a holistic multi-cultural center dedicated to spirit, healing arts, and community” next to a picture of the founder in some Indian-style chi-like pose. My dad called me after seeing the website to make sure I hadn’t joined a cult.

A couple of months later the founder told me about the ayahuasca ceremonies that were held at the space and that if I wanted to try this hallucinogen for free, I could volunteer to be a guardian. He said that the guardians help bring people to the bathroom during ceremony, that twenty people would sit in a circle and a shaman would play music as people vomited and shat for six to eight hours.  I signed up right on the spot.

I showed up to the ceremony with four other roommates/guardians all dressed in white. Twenty other white-clad strangers entered our house, gathering in a circle on mattresses around the shaman.  It looked like a scene straight out of The Twilight Zone. If this shit happened in Missouri, it was way beyond my circle.

The shaman was an American “body psychologist” and self-proclaimed “neo shaman,” who said he’d found ayahuasca to be a useful “tool.” His intro was brief and included a single warning about taking a “death dose” that many encounter in ceremony.  “You may experience a feeling of dying,” he told us. When he broke out an i-Book and put on some low, tonal trance music, I named him Shaman Macintosh. As people came to Shaman Macintosh, they would kneel and drink. After the last person drank and returned to his mattress, the circle was complete — people blindfolded, music on, and plants of various sorts giving the subtle illusion of a rainforest-like atmosphere. We turned off the lights and covered the windows with dark curtains but the car alarms and people chatting in the street were frequent reminders that this was the concrete jungle of NYC.

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