“Distilled in the lost tradition from the San Pedro cactus by the last master Huachumero, Huachuma was the sacrament that formed the foundation for pre-Incan civilization, the Chavin.” - Aubrey Marcus, CEO of Onnit
During my time in the Amazon, I was treated with 3 different plant medicines. One of which is becoming increasingly well documented in western media: Ayahuasca. Less well known are the medicines Bobinsana and Huachuma. The latter was possibly the most transformative of all for me, however as it was the last medicine I was treated with, and I’m certain any changes were built upon foundations laid by the other plants.
It’s possible to find out more about Huachuma (or the ‘St. Pedro’ cactus as it has come to be known) through some simple online research. A lot more difficult is finding any reasonable description of what the medicine’s effects are like. I was surprised by this before taking it, but post-treatment I understood fully. It’s not something that can easily be put into words, as senses mix and thoughts collide. It is also said to be a unique experience for every individual, so all I can offer you is my human story in the ‘flow of consciousness’ style it was recorded.
Thanks to some good advice from a fellow traveller, I recorded audio notes the morning after each Huachuma Mesada (as the treatment is known). For this blog, I have added some further notes in italics to help make more sense of the adventure. The only important prior information required is that the medicine lasts around 12hrs, so we would be treated late morning then set about our carefully coordinated day. So in it’s own unique style, I give you: The Flow of Consciousness: Huachuma
The Water Mesada
My first Huachuma experience - the best day of my life. The morning of the first ceremony, I have a great chat after breakfast with some of the guys; Ryan and Stian. I make the decision that I want to follow Stian's path into holistic lifestyle therapy this morning - feels good to be decisive. Decide on doing the HLC1 (Chek Holistic Lifestyle Coach) course ASAP. Don Howard (our shaman) says Huachuma is give and take, and that Chavin culture is all about reciprocation, so I decide that going into coaching would be my intention, and my offering is to be brave and stick with it and have faith even when it gets tough (financially, burden of time and so on..).
The medicine starts setting in pretty quick, I tell Anthony and Lin that I think this is the happiest I've ever been in my life as we take the boat to visit an indigenous tribe. The way the water moves, smooth ripples flowing into the trees because of the high water level, feels incredible, like an extension of myself. Lin gets me to take her seat at the edge of the boat so I can put my hand in the water - it feels amazing and I’m struck by her thoughtfulness to share that experience.
Incredible weather, it's the Water Mesada and it rains while the sun is out during the boat trip on the way to the tribe, with the rain stopping at our destination. We arrive at the tribal village and a little girl runs up into my arms with a huge smile, and that's the last she'll leave me alone until I'm on my way home. We play, I throw her up in the air, tickle her, her laughter is infectious. She’s jealous and possessive of me when the other kids want picked up. Stian tells me that she can feel my good heart - what a nice guy, he didn't have to say that. Beautiful moment. We'd had a good chat earlier that day and a few laughs. It’s the first time in a week or so that I'd been really 'up' again, after a tough end to the tough Ayahuasca journey, and some sad goodbyes (as some of the people at the retreat departed). I think the other guys were bummed by the goodbyes too.
Super hot day, soaked in sweat, the tribe make us dance for ages and of course I can't set down my jungle baby without her freaking out and wanting lifted up again. My body feels weird, almost nauseous but not quite, sweat rolling off me, dehydrated, heat, just as it's all getting too much, Roy (a helper from the sanctuary) turns up with some jungle grapes - best things ever. Antony and I get stuck into them, they're awesome - hydrating. I see a sloth there which is cool, then it's time to go. I give the little girl a bracelet I'd been wearing for good luck.
Boat back home is awesome, there's lightening, a cool sky, I start passing around bottles of yellowish liquid I found in the front of the boat assuming it’s limonada, thankfully I was correct and it wasn’t fuel for the boat or something. Also fruit, the bananas are so good on the way home, even the oranges. Arrive back at the sanctuary and it's beautiful - candle lit walkway. Nothing is really explained, everything very open, we decide to go take cold showers which feel incredible, after the long hot day and reconvene at the Maloka (central tribal hut where the ceremonies and healing take place).
Once we’re congregated and don Howard is ready, he stands, speaks, and I get called up to the alter first. He speaks to me in hushed tones, whispers about God, the power of the universe, tells me I'll spend the rest of my life chasing this feeling... but I'll find it again. It feels awesome, and as I’m staring at the altar I feel my arms lift up in ‘crucifix-like’ position. I’m about 10% self conscious of how bizarre this is and must look, but basically have no option but to go with it. I think I could resist if I tried but I don't want to, after all, this is what I'm here for. I don't know why, but I just have to go with it. Say yes.
Which reminds me, before I drank the medicine at the very start, don Howard said, "it's a noble path you wanna' take brother"... jaw-dropping moment, I can't believe he knew my intention about moving into healing too. I can’t possibly prove that he knew exactly that, other than feeling it in my heart. Possibly spookiest moment of whole trip, and that's saying something. I spoke to others after and there were similar reports of ‘mind reading’. Incredible and something that doesn’t really translate into text.
Dagmar, a middle aged eastern European lady, was called up to the altar after me. Don Howard whispers to her, her legs shake, eyes roll back, no question about what's going on, she's practically in an orgasmic state of bliss, changed her life, beautiful to experience, but hilarious at the same time. In no way laughing 'at her’ however, just the incredible situation. The rest of the night, her eyes are glued to the altar - she even cuts in line towards the end of the ceremony in front of Stian to stand in front of the altar again, for a long time. Hilarious.
Finally, several of us are called upon to blow Peruvian whistling jars. I was handed a jar shaped as 'life and death together as friends', beautiful. About 8 of us are called and I felt very honoured to be part of that next to my jungle brother Paul. It felt amazing. Food at the end of the day, very late dinner, best ever, so good. Very aware the experience was a lot more mild for others than myself, but hopefully everyone still had a meaningful day.
The Earth Mesada
The last mesada was probably the best day of my life, but this didn't even feel much like a day, or much at all like my life. Incredible though. I felt full of energy. Ran over the bridge while everyone else waited behind the Maloka for don Howard. Some weird moth or bat or something flew from a beam and hit my face over the bridge, scared the life out of me for millisecond then became the funniest thing ever. Run to the water and look out. Beautiful.
Eventually we get going and the boat trip is amazing again, we're going to see a more remote tribe this time. Boat goes into the jungle really deep, down small side rivers, really out of the way, the guys driving really know what they're doing... We land at a spot, drink limonada and eat fruit, lots of hugging, everyone is more deeply affected today, it feels like everyone else has 'caught up' to me in terms of experience the first day, perhaps even surpassed as some are overwhelmed, and then we start trekking.
I'm up front by don Howard and Aisha, feels great. Long trek and we eventually get there, feeling even more affected by the medicine than yesterday. We get a chance to go into the tribe’s sacred stream and swim, it's amazing. Most of us just go for it. Eventually Anthony joins us, his facial expression as he gets in the water is hilarious but beautiful, I could tell it was as good for him as when I first got into the water. He’s a true friend and will be for the rest of my days. Eventually David also joins in which I feel very happy about.
The water is really weird, very warm in some spots and very cold in others. Someone says it's to do with the different depths. I try to stay conscious of not swallowing the water in case there’s some odd jungle bacteria in it, but it's not a big concern, it's almost funny as Paul warns us of this in a comically mocking tone. Hot day and cooling off feeling incredible. Eaten half alive by Mosquitos, but basically just give up caring about that. Once I was that badly bitten, what more could they do to make it worse?
Once we get out of the water it stars raining and it may be the most incredible looking thing I'd ever seen in my life. Rain on the enchanted stream, taking it all in with Stian, Paul and Anthony nearby. Water flowing looks crazy. It's breathing.. Going into trees because the water level is so high. It looks pink and hazy, an effect of the cactus I think. When I was in the water; blue and yellow and black birds of paradise are flying around very very far overhead. Never seen anything like it. Eventually we’re called to watch the tribe dance by David, but I could've stayed there forever. Kind of wish the moment wasn't interrupted, but all things must come to an end and non-attachment is vital.
The tribe’s songs and dances are really impressive, it’s all getting very intense now though, people very emotional, some carried away a little I think. I lead the walk back but become embarrassed at one point when we hit a fork in the road and I don't know where to go, I even suggest wrong way, oops, lesson learnt not to be 'proud'. Admit when you're wrong. Don't worry that people will think less of you, they probably couldn't care less or even think about it ever again anyway.
Eventually we get back to candle lit sanctuary after the most incredible sunset I've ever seen in my life. First time I've ever felt 'in love' with nature. Shower feels awesome again, but this time back at the Maloka we have the option to snuff liquid tobacco in front of the altar to bring clarity. I do it, but it’s incredibly tough and felt horrible, my eyes went super bloodshot and I couldn't breath through my nose for a long time after, but it felt extremely powerful and like a purge afterwards with all the eye watering and nose blowing.
The tobacco experience helped me feel like the final badness had been cleaned out from years of illness and negative thoughts or doubts about myself. That was my intention prior to the ceremony, to be cleaned and healed, and my offering was to appreciate this and maintain it as best as possible when I got home by really looking after my body and my mind. Dinner again then up to the star deck to watch the sky for a long time and be eaten by mosquitos, with my new family of fellow adventurers.
The Air Mesada
This day we start a little later and stay on the sanctuary grounds. Today feels like the bonus round. My intention is simple, 'para el bien de todos’ as they say at the sanctuary - for the good of all. My offering; myself, my life as sacrifice - for the good of all. I'm one of the last to take the medicine, and as such, one of the last to be affected this day.
We take a jungle walk with loads of Mosquitos again and I help Lin through the forest. That was nice because I felt we hadn't really spent a lot of time together and it felt good to be there to help her and bond a little. She's great, we’re very different, she really knows herself inside out. Eventually we break out of the trees and the sense of openness is incredible, I can hardly take my eyes off the sky. Lin asks if I can hear the trees ‘talking’... kind of, but not really. When eventually we make the final approach to the star deck, what Lin had said made complete sense. Nothing had ever made more sense than that in the moment.
It was more that I could ‘feel’ the trees talking, not with my mind but with my heart. As Niklas put it, it’s impossible to really describe, like explaining colour to those who are blind from birth. I was able to look at individual trees and feel connection in some way - feel their whispering and the ground breathing, the clouds and birds acknowledging my energy. I kept ‘forgetting' that I was human, which was the first time in my life I've experienced true and utter presence in the moment - timelessness. I try to remind myself of good things about being a person like sex or food or laughter and friends but keep falling back into this oneness and presence, and communication with the trees and nature.
Rain comes down but nobody cares. Paul, Stian and I stay up there until it's just about to get dark and we meet Anthony on our return to the Maloka. Now is the big test, Don Howard is building this up massively, a big deal for a man that often moves in subtleties. The Vilca, an extremely potent snuff said to simulate the experience of death and rebirth. I'm feeling euphoric after the star deck and very keen to get going, I'm willing to be brave and go first, as he asks the male side of the room who has a warriors heart. I stand, as nobody else responds - he beats his heart with his fist, I return the gesture and walk to him, we talk in hushed tones once more and he tells me about fear, and what it's like to front up to it. Prescient really considering what would come up for me after I took it.
He started calling up people by their room number to take the Vilca, if they should chose to do so. I was one of the last few in the end. It was extremely intense and the affects reminded me of Ayahuasca but far more potent. Vortexes and patterns, some eyes and a lot of ‘skull’ faces with eyes in the sockets and big sharp teeth in a kaleidoscope. Not sure why I'm being shown this, but I'm not scared, more irritated by my extremely blocked nose and sinuses after snuffing the medicine, and a little nausea. I can't keep my earplugs in because so bothered by my nose being blocked. I sense the presence of two others in my room. No idea who really... and someone else alive. I thought it was Anthony at first, but pretty sure it was just actually my body, that ‘I’ was separate and sensing my living, breathing body apart from me.
Post experience, I think I was just too in my head, not enough in my heart. Next time I'll be more prepared. I was expecting a lot of love but instead I believe this was all a lesson in fearlessness and to do more good with my life. It isn’t enough to just ‘do no wrong', you must actively ‘do right'. I saw that how if I'd lived a bad life, those skulls would've terrified me, and maybe if I'd lived a better life I'd have felt more love and others present, but it was actually very sedate and calm, yet extremely tiring. It was like an allegory for hell, heaven and limbo, in which I felt if I died now I'd reside in the latter. Not so bad, but great encouragement to use this medicine journey and experience to kick-start a more giving, good life. It feels like one arrives at the same 'place' outside space and time when they die, no matter what, and it’s simply their actions during life that determine whether that place is their heaven, hell or otherwise.
I was exhausted afterward, and took forever to eat dinner. I was ecstatic for Anthony and Stian with their very positive experiences but it also made me feel a little like I missed out on something. Ryan had a good chat with me and I felt a little better about it all, his wasn't so over-the-top either. I’m reassured by Ryan reminding me that everyone gets what they need out of it. I had my euphoria moment on the star deck earlier, then I had my lesson in fearlessness, which was exhausting, but should be exactly what I need to take back home to 'real life'. I sacrificed myself, to experience fearlessness - a necessity for the good of all those I’ll have the fortune to interact with in this lifetime.
- Scott Riley, January 2015
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