I heard the sound of my wounds healing.
As I lay blanketed by the pitch black night, unable to see even my hand in front of me, on a small mat under thick alpaca blankets, something happened. Something so sacred moved through me, I’ve never felt, nor do I exist the same again. Since that day some deep in my spirit has changed. Every day I feel it speaking to me. Guiding me deeper and deeper. That night a spirit took over my entire being. My entire body was wrapped in a love I’d never felt. Greater maybe, than the love I’ve felt from my mother. Under the cold night sky of May, with the thick Icaros, sacred and ancient indigenous shipibo songs of Peru, I heard my wounds heal. In a drunken Ayahausca haze, almost avatar like, something switched. Out of my pain and turmoil a song, many songs, they began to dance in my spirit. A music so sacred and so beautiful. I received something on this night and it has been carrying me ever since.
This is part 1 of series, that I will distill.
I begin my journey to healing by first, prefacing my story. Firstly, psychedelics are powerful tools, that may not work for everyone. Meditation, traditional therapy as well as its inclusion to psychedelic use, and other forms of spirituality can help shift us and transform us into the drivers of our life. Psychedelics should be used with safety and the utmost sacred respect. These medicines have the capacity to shift our lives so deeply. I call them medicines and not drugs because our culture in the west has labeled so many things like psychedelics as bad. Again safety is important. Who you do psychedelics with, why you do them, your intentions, the setting, your mental state prior to doing them, all make a difference. If your seeking psychedelics for fun, than this is not the story for you.
Where do I begin?
Well. My journey to ayahuasca began through turmoil and pain. Sure my life was going “ right” in the eyes of most people. I came from a single parent home, lived in economic poverty, but I had a mother who did her best to be a dutiful and loving mother. I went to college like the told us to, to better my life, economically. I got a degree in biology and then another in nursing and by 27 years of age I was working full time as a nurse.
But my pain began years ago and I will name it here. My traumas began from birth. I had a twin who died when we were born. My parents fought a lot. Verbally and physically. My father despite having uninhibited access to his children has never shown up in my life. I was then in my early years of life raised by a family member who was verbally and physically abusive. Then there comes the woundings that my brothers and sisters, we leveled against each other. Mix in with the the fact that I am/ was, trans, queer, and black, and economically poor. I’m still trans and black but I identity with something larger and more loving. Identify more and more as a spirit.
I come from New York City. I was born in the Bronx. The birth place of rap and hip hop. My grandparents were black descendants of slaves. Despite various admixtures of German, polish, and English ancestry with our skin being dark we are called black. I was born into a certain kind of trauma. My paternal grandparents I know nothing about other than they were from Virginia. My maternal grandmother came from South Carolina and my grandfather was born in New York City. Both my parents were born in NYC. I was born in a place that served as a place of a new beginning for black slave descendant people who left the harshness of the American south in what was termed by historians “ The Great Migration”. The great migration, beginning in the early 1900s and lasting into the 1970s, saw over 6 million black people descendants of slaves, leave the American south and migrate north, to cities like, Chicago, LA, Seattle, New York, Milwaukee, Philadelphia, etc. Black slave descendants went north to try to escape the brutal hands of Jim Crowe, only to meet James Crow another racist form of social, political, cultural, and economic racism.
The Bronx, Brooklyn, as well as Harlem, and parts of queens were places where Black culture took a strong hold because these were the only places in New York City where black people could find properties to rent. Because quite often there were secret pacts or agreements between white landlords where they would refuse to rent to people of color. This drove the rise, along with economic downturn, white flight, and continued racism, ghettos.
But I will say this, I truly honor my ancestry, and have a come to see it less as a burden, less as something to feel sorry about, less of something that I want others to feel sorry about, more in the hopes that others will do things to correct this very hurtful, violent and far reaching history. For example reparations.
So just as so many, By the age of 27, Saturn return began to hit fast, I began to piece together, and feel all the parts of my existence that felt somehow heavy, somehow dark, somehow painful.
I came out as “gay” when I was around 14, only to be told “how do I know”. and then, because of my perceived sexuality, and I also believe my perceived gender, before I even realize that I was Trans, I was assaulted by several men growing up.
Then we can layer into this, the fact that I come from a culture deeply rooted in Christianity. The black church has been so foundational, and elemental in the lives and stories, and existence of black people. But I found very early in my life that the black church, Christianity, was leaving something very large and very visceral inside of me, unhealed. I didn’t feel connected to god. I didn’t even feel that god loved me.
Once I returned home to live with my mother after spending years with a family member, I was introduced to Islam through my mother. While I found this practice quite different and while it felt more sacred and I felt more connected to god, it still made me feel like parts of me where not welcome. It wouldn’t be until college, where I met my best friend, and during that time that I began to explore Hinduism, Buddhism, and Native American and African traditions and spiritual practices.
Where else in this journey did I unearth trauma, pain, turmoil?
My romantic life. Both through my actions and the actions of others, I caused and experienced trauma, and pain. We must first admit that so many of us are born to a culture that doesn’t teach us how to love. It doesn’t teach us how to love ourselves and it doesn’t teach us how to love others. Hell, our culture is so afraid to truly define what love is.
So I’ll define it in the words of Bell Hooks, a prolific writer and womanist of color, in here latest work All About Love, she quotes M Scott Peck’s work, defining love as “ The world to extend oneself for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth.” She States further “ to truly love we must learn to mix various ingredients care, affection, recognition, respect, commitment, and trust, as well as honest and open communication.”
I think part of why our culture doesn’t teach us how to love ourselves, is because to love, you must love yourself first. This self love will cause you to stand in your power. And when you stand in your power you don’t allow people to manipulate you, belittle you, and throw away your humanity. Our culture doesn’t teach love and can’t teach love because to know love would be to know and give accountability, equity, equality, forgiveness, and the understanding that love is work, and practice.
To know love would completely change the socio-economic political system that was originally founded by European men who despite good intentions were still slave holders.
My romantic life was hopeless romance, one night stands, and hookups with more men than I can remember their names. When one man did arrive who was a soul mate, I was too deeply traumatized and caught in my process to see the universe sending me something so beautiful.
Finally, nursing, a career as a hospital bedside nurse pushed me into beginning’s of seeing that’s so many of us are in pain. It opening my eyes even wider to my pain and my suffering.
My nursing career began out of a real desire to help people, it it also came from a place of having lived through poverty. Having grown up without money. Deciding to become a nurse came out the frustration that to live a decent life and have money to do things, I felt the need to go to college. After getting a degree in biology I felt like I was at a stand still. Where to next? There wasn’t much I could do with simply a biology degree. I would need to go back to school for more education. I didn’t want to be like some friends who had degrees and where working other jobs outside their actual degree. Which really isn’t their fault.
We are living in a time where a degree isn’t always an avenue to a better life. With 40k in student loan debt I took on more student debt and went back to school for nursing. With 30k more of student debt I graduated nursing school, but between my salary as a nurse in Albany NY and Washington DC, coupled with rent, my car, gas, 1000 dollars a month in student loan debt, cost of health insurance, I was was drowning. I was working overnights and overtime trying to make more money and save more money. Then, I’m having sex with men to drown out the internal noise and stress of a job. I’m going into work with people who hate their jobs. There was so much lateral violence between coworkers. Nurse on nurse bullying is an epidemic. Doctors and nurses who hate their jobs and dislike each other, as well as patients who are facing their own physical disease stemming from lifelong unacknowledged trauma.
With all of this swirling into an emotional hurricane ravaging my inner life, while I kept up the appearance that my was fine on socials and to friends, something in me said “I quit. I cannot go on like this.” I started to feel sluggish and tired. I was getting sick a lot. My body started aching. My anxiety went to a 10 out of 10, and my hair started falling out.
One day while making the three hour weekly drive from Pennsylvania to Connecticut where I would stay for 3 days, work three 12 hour shifts, and then return home until my next set of shifts, the hurricane inside became too much. I broke down and pulled over. Putting on my flashers, I steadied the car and pulled it over to the right as possible to be off of the highway. The car rattled periodically as trailer trucks sped by. I sobbed for an hour on the side of the road. I said Universe. “ what is this”? What kind of existence is this? Tears flowed down my cheeks and my nose ran, every time I would try to comfort myself and pull it together, I would cry deeper and deeper and harder and harder. Something was coming up and I couldn’t control it. I made it to work that day but something had shifted. That day I made a pact with myself. “My 30s are not going to be riddled with this stuff, I will not continue to suffer like I did in my 20s.”
Looking back I think the universe smiled when I said this. So in Universe fashion, Ayahausca flowed into my life a few months later. At first I was majorly against psychedelics.
Growing up on the tail end of The Crack Epidemic/ War on drugs which was really a war of black and brown people, I always felt that drugs were bad. But I continued to see Ayahausca reviews showing up in my feed. Finally, one day day I clicked the video of a woman of color describing her experience. From her video I found more and more, and I began to spend hours flipping through the YouTube archives of people describing their journey with Ayahausca. Then through my own decision to experience Ayahausca, and after two months of deep extensive research I booked a trip to Urumbamba Peru. This was also around the same time that I began to question my gender. So everything was royally in a shit storm.
May 2019 arrived and I was on a plane to Peru. I parked my car at the JFK airport, with my passport in tow, and my luggage, I boarded my flight. I was nervous. I’d heard of trip reports with Ayahausca of some truly, truly dark and frightening situations and I didn’t want to through them. I was also listening to Ayahausca talks with Rebecca Hayden , and while it gave me some courage I was still afraid.
My flight landed in Lima, I went through customs, and then boarded my connecting flight to Cusco. I made my way through Cusco airport, where I was met a driver for the Arkana retreat center by a young Peruvian man, short, and with very dark features and straight dark hair.
Walking out of the airport the air was a bit cooler, maybe fresher, yet a tinge of petrol danced off the air. The sun was bright and felt welcoming. I began to feel short of breath and realized that Cusco is high in elevation and so walking to the car from the airport was a small struggle. But despite being out of breath as I carried my things to the car, I felt the warm welcome energy of Peru. It was a familiar welcome. I felt this energy the last time I was in Ecuador. There is something deeply beautiful and spiritual about this part of the Andes. It’s a place I would love to one day call home.
Throughtout the 1.5hour trip, the driver chatted with me in Spanish. The seven hour flight had been an overnight flight so my fro was all messy. As we drove past the bustling city, through streets with people selling all kinds of things, bombarded with colors from stores, and towering hillsides. As we climbed the hills I slicked my hair back into a bun with some gel and put my hair scarf to cover my edges. We drove along a road that had two lanes. Both in opposite directions. As we drove we passed hills after hill and more hills. Hills turned into mountains. Houses became sparse. Every so often we would merge into the empty oncoming lane to pass slower vehicles. I sat back and tried to relax. I was still nervous.
We did make one stop. It was maybe a half hour from the Arkana retreat center. There was a large Mountain View from atop a cliff. The driver smiled and asked if I wanted to go and see. So I stepped out and we walked over to a small area where a large tour bus had stopped and people were taking pictures. The driver came and took my picture using my phone. Then off to continue the rest of the drive.
The landscape turned more clay like in color as we finally arrived up to the Arkana Center. Finally arriving in Urumbamba my car made its way into a rickety dirt road big enough for one car but by way of Peruvian magic, another car managed to squeeze past us. We arrived at their beautiful gated door. I was greeted by smiling faces. There weren’t very many people there when I arrived. Immediately walking in I felt the presence of something beautiful. The compound was green with grass, and it was set on the side of a mountain where there were three main houses for cooking, ceremony, and staff. Rising up was a large white building with rooms for guests. Down to the left of the compound was a large Tee Pee where the Shamans slept.
My first night there in Peru, I met other travelers. I met a couple from buffalo New York, a woman from Florida, and two guys from Khazakstan. They were brothers. That night the cool mountain air came into the valley, which they call the sacred valley, and the night sky was lit so brightly. It was so full of stars. Living in the big city you don’t often get to see the night sky. In every direction you could see these glorious, beautiful stars. I stood outside wrapped in a beautiful blue poncho made of alpaca hair. The cool air was comforting against my skin. More of my nervousness had settled. Although my bed was hard and a bit uncomfortable I still rested soundly that night.
The next day brought about a fair of activities. Breakfast was served and it was a welcome breakfast. I had been fasting for over two weeks eating just fruits, vegetables, little salt, avocados and rice. I was able to meet more of the staff as well as other retreat participants who began arriving. That night more participants arrived from the other Arkana campus that situated in the jungle. Most memorable about this group of individuals was one man in particular I met, and I got to sit next my entire week there, a very beautiful Persian man whose name I cannot recall. But I do remember that we have the same exact birthday.
But also know that nothing happened. I just spent my time admiring how beautiful this man was.
That night in the Moloka there were about 18 of us and we spent the evening going around sharing our names, where we are from and what we wanted to gain from being at the retreat. In front of us sat a large narrow alter. In the middle was a large tapestry with a feminine being, which I later learned learned was one of the spirits of Ayahausca. The room smelled of rich natural tobacco and palo santo. The shamans sat in front of us, one female and much older, elderly, and another much younger and male. They introduced themselves and spoke about ayahausca and how we should trust the medicine. The facilitators who aren’t shamans but organizers, volunteers, and employees went over a brief medical and mental health questions. Off to bed.
The next day we had a ceremony called Temezcal. Temezcal is a Mexican tradition. It presents the womb of the mother. Large dome shaped structure was layered with heavy carpets and in the center was a hole in the ground. Temezcal is in simple form like a sauna or steam room. Hot rocks were placed in the middle of the dome in the hole and water was poured on top creating lots of steam and the large rugs prevent the steam from going out. So imagine sharing this dome with 18 others. Before entering the dome structure, we each pray and make intentions. I prayed and made my intentions and then as I lifted my torso up to enter the dome, still on my hands and knees a woman facilitating said, welcome sister, or bienvenido hermana. Something about this struck me deep in my soul. I’m not a woman I said in my mind. Maybe she was confused. “Hermana”?
Throughout the 90 minute Temezcal ceremony we went through the cycles of birth. It was hot and humid inside and my hair became a fro. As the heat picked up in the dark space, myself and other got lower to the ground to help ease our breathing. The steam rose up and created an intense heat. Through each round of water, song, steam rising in every direction, the air became thicker. People began to cry. Emotions were being released. I began to shed tears. I felt my wounds and trauma surfacing. Through more and more rounds more things came up. Images of my mother and her pain. Images of my father, my regrets and disappointments. Tears flooded my face. I couldn’t see anything inside but for a tiny light coming through the cracks. Finally the last round of the ceremony came and we were able to crawl out. Sweat but glad to finally be out of the heat, I sat and ate the fruit they gave us. It tasted so good. So sweet and so needed after sweating so intensely.
I went back to my room showered. Then lunch was served. I sat down at the table and everyone was quiet. The mood was somber. I was deep in my head thinking. After lunch there was free time. There was no eating after 5pm to ensure that there would be little to no unnecessary vomiting during ceremony. That night would be our first ceremony. I talked with an older woman from Washington DC and she talked about her own journey to the medicine.
The first night of ceremony arrived. At 7pm we all entered the moloka. The shamans, two of them sat before us. The other participants filtered in and we each sat at our assigned mats. Thick alpaca blankets were passed out because at night it would get cold. The shamans went around and blessed us all with tobacco. Because of a full moon the doors and all entry ways we’re blessed and sealed with protection. The light of candles danced off the walls. In front of me was the large tapestry of mother ayahausca. One by one we each went up for our drink, when it came time for me, the shaman gave me a small dose. We each had different doses. I drank my bitter almost malt-like flavored brown sludgy drink. It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be but over time it became gross. After saying my intentions and drinking my dose I crawled back to my mat. That night nothing happened.
I lay there in the complete darkness through the Icaros being sung and waited and waited. Nothing. I could hear people wretching and vomiting. Some people laughed, some cried. I could hear people talking. The helpers would come around every so often and help people struggling through their ceremony. We were instructed never to reach out and touch people because you could experience their traumas and mix energies that weren’t good. I just lay there hoping to feel something, anything. My stomach was a little upset, but nothing more. No visions, no colors, no deep insights. I still had 5 more days and three more ceremonies, so patience.
The Icaros continued deep into the night. People vomiting, crying and laughing. Sometimes it would go silent, the shamans would stop singing periodically, and the only thing I could hear was my heart beating. There were periods throughout the night where I would connect with the song of the shamans, the spiritual songs called Icaros. These songs I didn’t understand, but I would be carried off into my feelings at times. At certain intervals I would feel as though the shamans were singing to my pain, to my joy, to sadness, to my triumphs. Even though nothing mystical and extraordinary was happening. I still felt a connection however minor it was.
The cold gentle breeze would blow across the room. The moonlight streamed in through a part in the curtains. The night faded away as I slept. I awoke to candles and one of facilitators letting us know that ceremony had ended. I was a little disappointed but still I felt that something had brought me to Peru and to have hope. I had a deep desire to reach deep inside me and find a new way of existing, outside of pain, anger, sadness, and fragmentation.
The next day came and throughout the week it would be the same, each morning after ceremony we would pile into the bright sun filled eating room with tall windows surrounding us, eat and share the nights events. This first morning was the hardest. The people who had come from the jungle shared their visions and insights and night events. I hadn’t connected to the medicine the way they had. I was discouraged and a bit sad.
After breakfast we went and had group share in the ceremonial room. I did look forward to sitting next to the beautiful Persian man.
Okay straighten up, you’re not here to find a man.
We each went around, said our name, talked about our experience and then on to the next. The day was filled with small events. Small activities to mingle and free time. I was able to take a nap and rest because the night had been busy.
I sat in my room on the bed. It was a bit stiff, but it had a thick aplaca blanket on it. My roommate was out in the common area in front of the kitchen. The room had simple white walls. My travel bag with my stuff lay over in the corner. Despite it being late May in Peru, in the Sacred Valley it was chilly. Maybe 60 degrees at best this day. I put on my poncho and wrapped myself in the thick blanket they provided. Sitting there I looked out the window and admired the mountain view. I spoke deeply to spirit and asked to “ please connect with the medicine. Please mother ayahuasca help me to heal. Please connect with me tonight.”
Ceremony night two began again at 7pm. We all stopped eating at 3pm when lunch was served. Again, to limit any unnecessary vomiting. We all filtered in slowly into the Maloka, one by one, each finding our assigned mat. Mine in front of the mother ayahausca tapestry on the wall. Again I was overcome with fear. Hearing stories about people being eaten by hallucinations of snakes, going into dark endless spirals, feeling like they were dying, I didn’t want to experience those, and if I did I asked the medicine to be gentle with me. I needed gentleness at this time in my life.
Again the shamans blessed each of us. They would come over, blow tobacco on your heads, in our hands, and around us to bless us and protect us. They make this “SHOOOOP SHOOOOP!” sound when they blow the smoke. They would bless the facilitators. Thank god for them because they helped the shamans and the participants when things got rough. I never felt alone.
The room was filled with the strange but comforting smell of mopacho or the raw tobacco they used to puff on and for blessing. We were each given our own mopachos, or rolled natural tobacco. It tastes nothing like cigarettes and it is actually recommended that you don’t truly inhale it which I discovered the first night. We also had a bag with Florida water, a scented water mixed with alcohol, as well as palo santo. These tools came in handy when I felt the need to vomit, or gag.
The shamans blessed the ayahausca, each person went before the shaman, said their intention silently and then returned to their respective mat. When my turn arrived with my nervousness, I asked for a higher dose. The shaman poured the ayahuasca brownish sludge into an actual shot glass, filling it halfway. My ego yelped “ nah sis, whatchu doin” but my spirit knew that the journey on this road must continue forward. Despite my fear, I said my intentions and asked the medicine to be gentle with me. I went back to my mat, covered myself with the thick blankets and awaited my journey.
The night began again with complete silence and darkness except for a small bit of light coming for the outside through a curtain near me. The silence went on for maybe 30 minutes or so before the curandero, began singing an Icaro ( pronounced “EEEE-CAR-ROW). The night wore on, periodic cycles of the shamans singing Icaros and silence. The Icaros sometimes sounded like the shaman was crying and calling out to some other spirit. Then the song would go low and calm and then climb into a shrill, with the other shaman joining the first shaman and a chorus ringing out into the room.
I was still not feeling anything and I began to feel disappointed, even angry. I began cursing the ayahausca. Why had I paid all this money for this “shit” not to work?
“Like, why am I here. If you are not going to work then fine. Forget it.” I went on like this for 20 minutes, arguing internally, and finally I got to the place of, “ I don’t care”. I said to the ayahausca “ I don’t care, you know what? Show me all the darkness, show me what ever because I don’t care anymore, this is a waste of my time.”
My anger then turned into sadness. I started to cry out of frustration, why am I always trying to do things different. Why can’t I just be like everyone else normal? Maybe if I wasn’t gay and feminine none of this would matter. Why am I always feeling incomplete, lost, fragmented? Why I can’t I just love myself? I began to sob uncontrollably. Tears came up like an river spilling and rushing into the delta to the ocean. I couldn’t hold back and wept out loud. I sat up on my mat. Feeling of inadequacy, feelings of regret, of unworthiness spilled out of my eyes. I heard the foot steps of a person and a helper came over and gave me a tissue. I dried my eyes laid back.
Then, something began to move through me. Something ancient, something so sacred that I have not words for. Something that if I didn’t believe in god before, in that moment, and now, I knew something higher and more intelligent exists.
I asked what love was, and this joy took over me. Images of beautiful mountains and grasslands began to flood my mind. I felt something so sacred, a spirit beyond this entire world move through me. A love that I have no human language for filled my body. It said to me that love was in the mountains, in the ocean, in the birds, in the ants, in the sky, and in the stars, that love was inside of me.
The moment you connect with ayahuasca it is a feeling you’ll never forget……
Part II to come.