Thursday, January 5, 2017

Ceremony Space

Humble Pie & Tranquility
(Or -- Enjoying Diverging Glides of Present Polarity in the Timeless Unity
behind a Virtual Personal Space Unfolding Upon Laughter)

Out of the blue, some remarkable things come as nudges. At other times, emphatic messages manage to make their way through, even when one would guess they don't have a chance. Months ago in October, while planning a trip to Vilcabamba for three ceremonies with the Kambo medicine, what began over a few days as a recurring nudge soon became a dramatic call from Grandfather San Pedro.

I didn't plan to include San Pedro in my time down south. It seemed blatantly obvious that three bouts with Kambo would be a sufficient taxing foray into transformative altered states within a single week. But it also became clear that San Pedro needed to be a significant part of the trip. In the most unusual way, he was very specific about it. In no uncertain terms I was told to come visit only if how it happened was followed precisely. The message was strong - San Pedro needed to be taken back-to-back over two consecutive days. Not before but after the Kambo. This was expressed to me by Grandfather in a take it or leave it ultimatum. Whatever I needed to do to make this happen, I should do. Otherwise, don't visit.

My wife and I had discussed how to arrange the trip. There had been talk of splitting up the Kambo ceremonies with San Pedro on alternating days, or possibly book-ending the three Kambo experiences with San Pedro at the beginning and end of the week. Grandfather would have none of it. If I intended to visit with him, back-to-back over consecutive days was the way I needed to show up. Also, I needed to stay in the ceremony space the whole two days. There was to be no leaving for trips back to the city or to lodgings or side trips elsewhere. It wasn't a request. Since by now the calling to visit him was strong, the way to schedule things was also clear. And so we had a plan. It wasn't what we started out with. It was unexpected and challenging beyond what we had envisioned. But the unexpected and challenging that feels right still feels right.

As it turned out after all ceremonies were complete in that jammed-packed week, the consensus was unanimous. The extended time in ceremony, the uninterrupted San Pedro journey, the synthesis possible in having the special extra time to go deep on day one, then deeper on day two, proved to be a recipe for intense revelations and profound healing. Everyone who attended the two days commented how much would have been lost if the journey with San Pedro had abruptly ended with one ceremony at the end of day one. Part One would have missed a conjoining Part Two that fit together like two sides of a coin. Issues would have been opened but not closed with the same depth or completion. You can't see the full glory of a sunset if you stay in place for only a minute. Something about the added time, the undivided attention, is required for the experience to access much more of oneself, the part that counts.

After the October ceremonies were done, I participated in another dual-day journey with San Pedro in November and then scheduled the same for December. Not only were the consecutive days powerful, I found the cycle of returning to these once a month had the power of compounding the effects that spiraled the process into something grander. The monthly conversations with Grandfather San Pedro became cumulative stages in healing that left three weeks in between for internalizing, expanding, and living the messages in new transformative ways.

It's never possible to predict what a ceremony has in store but as the December dates approached, I didn't expect the journey I was about to take to once again prove in stark, emotional terms how powerful the back-to-back San Pedro ceremony format could truly be. Past ceremonies had cured me of thinking that any well-crafted intentions before a ceremony would matter much to how San Pedro interpreted what I needed. The intentions were valuable for me more as a method for getting into the proper meditative state with the positive attitude of respect and consideration for all that was on my mind and heart. Beyond that, intentions may or may not come up at all during the journey.

It seems some things are best internalized when they come as a surprise. And Grandfather San Pedro knows every which way to spring those surprises on you. As a result, my intention was simple. Beyond just wanting to explore what the medicine thought I needed next, I was curious how one could best put into practice the past lessons received. This had become a small but niggly issue during the three weeks spent back in normal life. What appeared so clear and direct as a message while in ceremony could cloud up in the confusion of being back in the "real" world. If there was any prescription on how best to put the lessons into practice, that would help enormously in taking the healing back into daily living.

The DAY ONE ceremony space this time was in the mountains close to Cuenca. In fact, at night the lights of Cuenca glowed below in full glory beyond the trees in the backyard. The yard was designed, like the house, more to be a weekend party location than a residence. A pool, a fishpond, waterfall, a patio with spinning dance lights, an open outdoor cooking area with thatched roof, a fire pit off to one side, a single bedroom and bathroom, a narrow deck and extended patio now doubling as a sleeping space were all compressed into an area smaller than necessary for most anything other than a close-knit party.

A prayer opened the ceremony as the time neared 10 am.  All in attendance except the facilitator drank the San Pedro brew and discussed their intentions for the day. As we drank, filtered sunlight broke through the fast-moving clouds that cruised over the ridge lines of the mountains around us. The warmth of the sunlight seemed a good omen for the day's journey. We sat a while and enjoyed basking in the light from above and the light from each other. I was there with two friends. All of us had attended ceremonies together before. From past discussions, we knew a lot of about each other's paths of healing and wished each other well.

There comes a time after drinking San Pedro that the bitter taste in the mouth is forgotten, replaced with a purging concern for the queasiness in one's stomach. Other individual effects appear. For me, little quivers of my leg muscles signal that the brew is finding its way through me. During this time, I feel it is reading me, knowing my current state, learning what is needed for the day. When these symptoms take hold, most participants silently feel the urge to find a quiet space off by themselves. Not much is said during this process. It is simply the unspoken need to drift away from the ceremonial circle. It is the pull of the medicine. It is the call to a type of introspection that expands one's awareness and opens one's heart. Once it is felt, you know your journey has begun.

For whatever reason, on that particular day I didn't feel like I had the gobs of energy needed to endure an ordeal. I couldn't help but remember how some meetings with Grandfather San Pedro in the past had included wrenching bouts of emotional turmoil and tiring life review. I wasn't sure if I had the strength for such a day. I wanted to commune with Grandfather but I thought it'd be nice to take it easy. I was aware it's often said that San Pedro gives you the strength you need for what must be done. Even those who feel they should go to sleep oftentimes find sleep eluding them no matter how hard they try to doze off. In place of slumber a dreamlike reverie arrives in which the conscious mind is present but put aside. Awareness is sharpened. Feeling is amplified. And a deeper conversation begins.

I thought about my original intention - how one could best put into practice the past lessons received. Grandfather dismissed it. Instantly, he showed me how ludicrous it was. The so-called "lessons" had been direct and simple, such as "do what makes you happy" or "realize you are love and act accordingly." There was no instruction manual for something so simple and natural. The statements were in their simplest, clearest form. Asking for instructions was merely an evasion of ego. The heart knew how to put them into practice. His answer concluded with - get out of your heart's way and simply do it. So much for my grandiose and cleverly studied intentions for the day.

Having started off on such a gruff and dismissive note, I wondered if my day might indeed need the energy I didn't have but it was claimed San Pedro could provide.  Despite knowing this was possible and likely, asking to have the strength given to me was not my request. As I laid out a mat and reclined on the grass, all I wanted to do was look for the beauty, go with the flow, and have a deep but pleasant day. I asked Grandfather in just these words. I might not have spoken them at all if I knew how they'd be the defining trigger for a most harsh, humbling, and exhaustively gritty boot camp of lessons by example. With spooky timing, the weather immediately changed after my request. Sunlight faded. Dark clouds raced overhead. A chilly breeze kicked up. Grandfather's conversation began in earnest. He was firm as he took issue with me. This time he spoke with a distinct Latin accent.

"Look for the beauty? What do you want? Puffy white clouds? Rainbows. Flowers? What do you think beauty is - some kind of Disneyland designed with everything nice that pleases you, convenient, on demand, easy in reach? Why do you pass over so much to look for certain things you call beauty?"

The next half an hour made it abundantly clear -- if I could not find beauty in an old block wall, a fallen bird's nest, a scab on the back of my hand, a water stain on the pool's decking, the shell of a desiccated beetle hidden in the grass, and infinitely more -- then the glory of creation was lost on me. Beauty was something I brought to life. It was not a narrow band of acceptable niceties automatically filtered out from all there is. Beauty was an expression of love and if I couldn't love the whole world, then how could I ever expect to experience finding the true and full beauty in it? People who are in touch with themselves and the world realized this. They instinctively knew it was their experience of the world that made it beautiful. To look for beauty outside of one's own appreciation and gratitude was limiting and illusory. Grandfather used Disneyland as the metaphor again.

"You people have lost your instincts. You follow the herd to another ride all plastic and shiny and you think you've experienced something real. You stand in line to see big plastic flowers and colored lights dancing in mirrors. You think you can construct identical packets of happiness and beauty like an assembly line. You don't even know what you've lost."

As the breeze turned colder, the mountain top I was on was hit by brief bouts of fog. The ceremony space was only so big with limited places to escape to. I had only the patio and deck to move to if I wanted to take cover. But one of my friends was on the patio, deep in his own journey, and the deck would take me close to where the other participant was vocally working with the facilitator on issues that needed immediate attention. I knew all along I would stay put. But I needed more warmth. I got up and got a blanket and returned to my mat on the grass. The fog and the icy breeze swirled around the ceremony space and gave me something immediate to find beauty in.

I laid on my back and stared up into the roiling dark clouds and the wisps of chilling fog. Letting go of any concentration on discomfort, I learned how to appreciate the moment and enjoy the sights above for all they were. The moving designs in the fog and clouds truly were beautiful. All I had to do was see them, not ignore them. And as I laid there, brief drops of mist hit my face. Instead of focusing on questions whether or not the drops were cold or if they would increase into rain, San Pedro invited me to enjoy them in the moment for the refreshing surprise each individual drop became.

I had to ask myself - or perhaps San Pedro was asking through me -- why did I pass over so much when I looked for beauty? Who or what had programmed those judgments into me? When had it started? Had I ever had a natural appreciation of everything around me without acceptable filters or snap judgments evaluating what it could do for me? Instead of being accepting and relaxed about each moment, something had hypnotized into me a need to discriminate everything down to favorable, acceptable, useful, and desirable elements. The ego-reductionist approach was insidious and from what I could tell, most times unconscious. The concept of an unconscious ego spun deeper behind the mask of perception. Even as it did, Grandfather led me past the synthetic distinctions of ego, id, and superego. One does not connect with the life force of a plant by picking its leaves, branches, and roots apart. Life force, like beauty and love, were not things to understand by an exploded diagram of parts. "No wonder you people get lost in what you think are the details and need help finding your way back."

The effect on personality and spirit was numbing even as it advertised itself to all that these attributes were a sign of being a well-put-together member of society. The resulting narrow prism allowed by this programming with which one was allowed to see the world yielded only an elitist shadow of possible colors and intensities. The world that was left became an artificial construct made to convince us we were riding the leading edge of sophistication when in fact we were manifesting a box to confine our consciousness. With so much of the world filtered out, engineered scarcity resulted, which made the designated beauty more valuable. To possess or enjoy such beauty would come at a cost. Those who could meet the cost would be idolized as having achieved their goal in life. They were the icons to emulate. For life in the box was all about acquiring the things and experiences that set one apart by virtue of the fact the desired things were made scarce and yet one had obtained them.

For a couple hours the manufactured Disneyland of ordained beauty and prescribed desirability was contrasted against the totality of the natural world. In the comparatively brutish, gritty world of everyday life, not everything was beautiful in an ordained way just as not all moments were meant to be spent laughing or all sounds were meant to be angelic. There was a balance and appreciation in the fullness of life that fed insight into a deeper understanding of duality. This is where the richness of knowing true beauty always existed.

For anyone to come to San Pedro and expect the day's appreciation of beauty to be little more than a pre-packaged display of pretty colors and pleasant objects as detailed on one's intention list belied a deeper disconnect. If one approached a ceremony that way, then how in the hell did they approach life? I was made to experience everything in excruciating, realistic, tough, and uncompromising ways. I was made to look at things closely without the filters, without the judgment, in all its detail no matter how much I would have liked to avoid it. How many times did I ever look at the world fully, as it is? How often could I drink and breathe in the dark cloud as much as we did the sunset? It wasn't about making it a part of ourselves. It was about knowing where we were. It was appreciating who we were in relation to it.

As the day progressed, I sensed the gruffness and grit of the day was backed by a compassionate force that needed such measures to snap me out of a hypnotic state. Like a slap in the face to say wake up, the intensity of the humility intended by having my face pushed where I needed to see was actually understanding and caring in intent. Grandfather and I, from past ceremonies, had established a father and son relationship that was as loving as it could be firm. I never wanted Father to pull any punches with me. I would rather be sat down and given the truth in a single dose than having it doled out in eyedropper drips that dragged on. He knew this and respected the way I preferred to relate. The fact that he decided to do this on a day I had low energy didn't seem convenient but perhaps, in his wisdom, he knew that was the best time to deliver the slap. It insured it would take -- and I wouldn't need another one.

At this juncture the tone of the conversation with Grandfather San Pedro shifted, as if introductory feelings were over and now the day's major example was about to begin. This is the part of the day I cannot talk about as much as I would like because when it was over Grandfather admonished me --- "you don't have the right!" He made it clear there was no way I had the right to write out details about the five-hour example I was taken through. To do so would position myself in a way that was disingenuous.

I will respect what he said to me. I will not disclose full details. I will only say it involved a remarkable experience of being put into the place of others - walking in their shoes, feeling what it was like to be them, interacting with the world and with one another as only they could do. I was also made to see how I looked to them and how many of my Disneyland manufactured values stacked up with the gritty, honest fullness of their world. It wasn't that they were perfect, far from it. It was a needed jolt to shake loose the hypnotic attitudes of my ways. Again, the contrast was made stark and immediate for me - their joys, their sorrows, their pride, their material poverty but richness of spirit, their way of relating to the moment and each other.

But Grandfather made it clear -- the spirit medicine's placement of me in them was a ceremonial experience, something other dimensional to take to heart personally -- but it in no way gave me the right to come back to normal life and proclaim I knew what it was like to be them or knew how they felt. Having the experience of jumping into the ocean and swimming deep didn't give anyone the right to come back to the surface and proclaim they knew what it was like to be a fish. I was given this remarkable experience but it came with a condition. Some things you can't take back through the door. It's just the way it has to be.

By the end of the day I was a limp rag, wrung out of so many preconceptions and attitudes. I felt like being quiet and recovering my balance. But it was not to be. The false balance I was trying to recover was the very thing I knew now I needed to leave behind. The more the evening deepened into night, the more I realized the chance of recovering any of that was impossible. All of it was left in tatters. I fell asleep, anticipating the next day's ceremony but wondering how I would cope with it if I remained in such an unbalanced state.

The Door to Day Two

DAY TWO started after a chilly night sleeping on a short couch on an open patio. Luckily I found a pair of warm blankets to get lost in and the exhaustion of the day knocked me out. Squiggles the dog was the first up and about as the sun rose the next morning, which was no surprise. Everyone had a big first day and went to sleep late the night before. It was a slow, easy start to Day Two. The most pressing item on everyone's agenda was finding a cup of hot coffee and a comfy seat where the morning grogginess could be sipped away.

The appearance of warm sunlight was not the encouragement one might think it could be. Day One had also started with sunlight but I was proof positive that such signs are no harbinger of bright sailing through an easy ceremony. The weather can change just as quickly as the atmosphere, opportunities, and obstacles faced while on a plant medicine journey. And so, while I enjoyed the warmth and light and pleasant skies, I drank down the large glass of huachuma and remained uncertain and anxious about where the day would take me.

Everyone eventually gravitated to their favorite places from the day before. All except me. I tried out the mat on the grass again but felt the impulse to find another kind of comfort. The only other place available was on the porch on the other side of the house. There I found an old wicker chair and a wood railing I could prop my feet up on. It had a nice view of the sky and swaying eucalyptus trees in the distance. To start a day that was so far very tranquil, the wicker chair spot was good enough for me.

For quite a while I lounged back and enjoyed enjoying. I found most thoughts rapidly slipping away. There wasn't much passing by my mental space that needed holding onto. A slide of soft emotion flowed easily like a full but contented river. The longer I sat, the more my mind quieted and my awareness opened. To have a quiet mind and a wide-open awareness at the same time was unusually peaceful and exciting all at once.

The amplified awareness fed an appreciation for so much I was noticing. So much was being apprehended so quickly, there was no time to stop to ponder, analyze, or judge. Nothing I was noticing was triggering any tumble of distracting thoughts. It was the moment, the totality of that moment, and everything rushing in from my senses. Nothing more. Nothing else was needed. There were no mysteries to solve, no unconscious tangles from the past to heal, no cosmic solutions to find. The mystery, the healing, the solution was contained in the moment the same way so many colors enfold in white light. San Pedro whispered to me, "You will reach a place beyond all messages where you simply enjoy."  I didn't realize it then, but this pronouncement was to set the tone for the day.

That's not to say the day was without its challenges. But with the quiet mind and open awareness, the challenges truly became opportunities. Grandfather eased me into a frame of mind where no matter what transpired, I was able to flow with a new balance in the beauty I could bring to each moment. The medicine was showing the flipside of Day One, a way of being that had no anxiety driven by acceptable lists of beauty and conditioned worth that had to be pursued. Instead, each moment was a chance to direct myself with expanded awareness into those things I put beauty into.

This was how it could be. But I was the one projecting the peace, the beauty, the contentment. It was not something I gathered to me from out there somewhere. And so, it was not limited to what I had been hypnotized into desiring, driven to consume, or pridefully acquired to be socially acceptable. But enjoying many of the things left off the hypnotic list made no one any money. Maybe that's why they weren't on the list. I discovered I could no longer find in mind the knee-jerk images and sense perceptions to imagine how "peace and contentment" should look. So much more than that was possible. The spectrum of one's self contained infinitely more.

As I reveled in a discovery state, empowered with San Pedro's new balance, I became aware of voices. One of the other participants was having a difficult time and had sought out the counsel of the facilitator. There was anguish, searching, confused power, and compassion in the exchange. At any other time, and definitely before Day One, such a disruption to my tranquil moment might have triggered annoyance. But I found nothing of the sort. I was so into my new balance that I didn't even think my lack of response was odd. My only concern was for the other participant's privacy. I decided to move back to the other side of the property so they could keep the exchange just between them. The prospect of having a whole new collection of things to take into my awareness in a new spot was something to look forward to. Instead of annoyance at having to leave my wicker chair spot, I only felt full of how much could be enjoyed in the new area where I was going.

With the nice sunlight bathing the yard by the fish pond and pool, I strolled back to my spot on the grass from Day One and laid down on the mat once again. Lying there was nothing like being in the same place 24 hours before. In fact, it was pleasantly the opposite. No sooner had I laid down and started gathering everything into my awareness but a children's party began at the neighbor's property close by. It was easy to hear the loud talking of adults and the jabbering and laughing of children. Once again, at any other time, such a disruption to my tranquil moment might have triggered annoyance - especially since I had just moved from the other spot for the same reason. But once again, I felt nothing of the sort - no aggravation. I was so into my new balance, I didn't even consider anything being irritating. In fact, the opposite happened. Instead of trying to ignore and block out the party sounds, I felt an impulse to tune into them. Everyone was speaking Spanish and it was intensely interesting to see if I could understand or figure out what they were saying, to feel what they were going through -- both from the little Spanish I know and from the inflections and context of their exchanges. Also, the voices of the children, instead of being an irritant, sung like joyous music to my ears. Oftentimes they mixed with the occasional bird call, which added another beautiful juxtaposition.

It was becoming clear that Grandfather San Pedro was providing ample opportunities to apply my new-found balance and loving perspective. Whenever I thought he had finished with ways it could be done, something else occurred that at any other time would not have been received the same way. Mid-way through the ceremony, early afternoon, I left the sunny mat for the shade of the patio couch and some fruit salad and tea. The voices next door and the children's play, which had gone on for over an hour, subsided a bit as they moved to another part of the property. But the lull in the party was just that -- soon the party ramped into high gear with booming music and dancing and a PA system with a DJ announcer who spurred on the celebrants into higher and higher states of enjoyment. This level of jubilation went on for the next five hours, into the early evening.

As it turned out, another ceremony participant - the one who had camped out on the bed on the patio, also found the high level of merriment next door to be humorous and enjoyable. We both began commenting on some of the raucous noises and carrying-on as it seemed the adults at the children's party were getting increasingly liquored up and loose. The longer the party went on, the more hilarious the whole situation became, fueled by disturbingly funny whoops, hollers, and passionate outbursts by the adults. By the time early evening had cha-cha'd around, my fellow ceremony mate and I had created a panoply of funny party characters and named them, we explored the salacious possibilities afoot, and we even got up and moved to the tunes ourselves.

Far from being annoyed at the possibly intrusive party, the party had extended to us as a blessing. Our afternoon became especially memorable in a delightful way when it could have been a disaster of us being bothered into indignation. It was the most dramatic lesson in how the new balance and perspective demonstrated where true beauty, love, and happiness emanated from. It wasn't the situation but ourselves that made our world what it became. As a gorgeous sunset blazed in the west, we dangled our feet in the pool to a blasting medley of '50's sock-hop tunes while a cackling woman three sheets to the wind took over the DJ's mic and presumably implored the children to keep truckin' as the colored lights spun. This was, of course, followed by YMCA by the Village People, to which my friend got up and perfectly recreated the original choreography. Priceless! Later that evening, each of us selected Angel Cards. My intention upon selecting was to get a spiritual comment on my two days. Interestingly enough, the card I drew was Priorities. As we huddled around the campfire, I let it all sink in.

I am grateful to Grandfather San Pedro for two absolutely different days. They were unlike as much as two days ever could be. And yet each in their own way provided the sides of a new coin that can be energetically cashed-in if I take the lesson to heart. My process of integration has been a quiet slide. There is no method, no system, no instruction booklet that guarantees the path to integration. Strangely enough, it has come to me without thinking. I find myself more aware of my surroundings and less occupied by the itty-bitty-shitty-committee of idle knee-jerk thought forever trying to drive the bus. I don't have to think of it as a bus. That's the first lesson. I don't need to think about quelling my thinking just like I don't need to listen for the sound of one hand clapping. Perception expanded doesn't go back to the original state. Follow the flow of intuition back to its source and I will find Day One and Day Two experiences feeding my soul. Just as there is no sanctioned list for acceptable beauty or expressions of love, there is no required list of approved ways to oneself. The journey continues both in and outside medicine space. To feel they are the same is where the most profound integration takes place.


  1. I'm so glad that I chose today to finish the last half of this blog, as it was the perfect reminder of those wonderfully jovial moments we had that day (and that we tend to have often when we spend time together). So thank you, my friend, for the reminder and for your company :-)

    1. ...and for sharing your thoughts and experiences. It's very interesting hearing and seeing you progress through the various phases of the pursuit of happiness.

  2. What a delight to hear from you this morning. There were many blessings received over those two days spend with Grandfather - one of the greatest being another chance to enjoy your friendship and company. It's remarkable how the synergy of good friends interacting can elevate an already ascendant experience into blissfully silly and happy dimensions. Thank you for the smiles, the sock, the glitter and so much more. It's fun, my friend, being on the ride with you and hearing about your adventures with Grandfather too.