Dancing with the Death Vine
by Joyti Chrystal & Jason Martin


In the Amazonian mythos, ayahuasca is considered a sacrament. Its tradition and use go far back beyond Incan civilization. The cultural and medicinal validity of the plant has been recently recognized by the Peruvian government, which has legalized its use, and the natives of the Amazon continue to use ayahuasca as a source of wisdom and healing. Don Agustin Rivas-Vazques, a master ayahuascero (a shaman whose specialty is working with the sacred plant's medicine) has built Orotongo ("jaguar" in Quechua), a jungle camp deep within the Amazon. It is here that we ceremoniously ingest the liquid from the ayahuasca, "the vine of death."

I am only vaguely aware of the other participants while waiting for the "first wave" to hit. Poised on a threshold of anticipation and awe, I reaffirm to myself the "no escape" clause, knowing there is no turning back now, wondering where, in the marvelous and unexplored terrain of my psyche, I will be taken. Suddenly, wham-bam! I am drawn to a private place within my inner world; just me and the Divine. I quiver; light flashes of heat catapult deeply into my pelvis. The medicine is embracing me. "I welcome you, I love you, I open myself to you" I repeat along with other personal invocations, as waves of intense heat surge through my body. I feel my heart expand while gentle waves of love and anticipation envelope me. I note the polarity of these two emotions and the wisdom of my body in its capacity to hold them. The paradox of the plant's putrid taste and its positive effects never ceases to amaze me. I concentrate on containing the bitter liquid while I listen to don Agustin's icaros (shamanic songs to usher in the spirit of ayahuasca) and feel my body receive it more completely. "What am I doing here? What am I doing with my life? Is this real? Am I making this up?" My mind continues its litany while the medicine goes deeper into my body and psyche. For the most part, I pay no attention to this chatter; experience tells me it is simply my scared, defenseless ego. Suddenly the Voice appears. It is a frequent visitor during the ayahuasca journey, and is commonly referred to as the Voice of God. I merge into a silent dialogue with it, which takes me to places along the insight highway I would not ordinarily have access to. Throughout the rest of the journey, I ride the wave of a penetrating awareness allowing me to see myself, my fear-based ego, my personal history and the transpersonal universe in a new way.

In another ceremony later that week, I suddenly become aware of a strong sensation on my right cheek. I am fearful and then realize that a jaguar is licking my face! He takes his roughly pulsating tongue along my neck and down my arm, then up into my chest as he licks my heart. I am in awe and marvel at the warm healing sensations in my body and around my heart center. I realize a kinship with this animal and connect to a furious protective maternal energy. I immediately intuit that this sleek powerful beast has come to inform me that I need to apply this same ferocity in my protection of myself, my marriage and my family, as well as my growing extended family at Starseed (our business). I must take a more visible stance for the growing community, one with similar offensive and defensive tactics, if I am indeed to claim my passion and leadership skills with this broad circle. I see that I have shied away from claiming authority in certain situations and sometimes defer to people whose energy is combative and headstrong. This thought takes me further along the insight highway to reveal the bullish energy within me that is a cover-up for a fragile self-protective nature. Ah! So this is how I falsify myself! The truth of this fragility leads to a heightened awareness of endless loops of false beliefs that entrap my psyche. Complicated? Perhaps, but within the ayahuasca experience I am able to resource and know unclaimed parts of myself.

Copyright Jyoti Chrystal and Jason Martin


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