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A DRESS REHEARSAL FOR DEATH


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This New Year's I was invited to join my brother and his friends in Kauai where together we participated in an ayahuasca ceremony. Ayahuasca is the extract of a vine used in shamanic rituals to awaken the subconscious. The potion releases DMT into the bloodstream. DMT is a substance secreted by the pineal gland (located in front of the brain directly behind the forehead). This chemical is released in largest quantities at certain times in life, notably at birth and again at death. And so the ayahuasca experience itself is likened to a rebirth, and it is also a sort of death experience.

In the weeks leading up to the ceremony, I was instructed by the "shaman," an Argentian who was trained by a Peruvian master and has conducted ceremonies for 10 years, having himself ingested the substance over 100 times, to abstain from alcohol, caffeine, tobacco, drugs, salt, meat, added sugars and to disconnect from technology as much as possible. Not a problem for someone without a smartphone. I even deactivated my Facebook account.

On the morning of our first full day in Kauai, which was Saturday, we woke up and after a breakfast of water and juice, headed to a grassy knoll by the beach where each of us (there were 11 guys in total, including the shaman) spread himself out on a blanket with a space of 10 or so feet separating himself from his nearest neighbor. I happened to position myself by a jasmine tree. This flower had been one of my late mother's favorites, and her words "night-blooming jasmine" echoed in my ears. This brought me to tears and I whispered, "I love you, Mom," and thanked her for being such a wonderful source of love and affection to me in the 43 years of our relationship as mother and son. I viewed my proximity to this tree as a good omen prior to beginning our trip.

We then said a prayer and each drank a two-ounce cupful of the liquid. To me it tasted like Ginseng. I sat in a lotus posture and after about 30 minutes I felt my lowest chakra awaken. One after one these energy centers exploded with warmth and a vibratory sensation as the energy traveled up my spinal column. When the chain reaction reached my head it exploded in an ecstasy of light and redness. Feeling my crown chakra open, I cried tears of joy. The bliss was overwhelming. I then lay down and reclined in the womb of the world, enjoying the embrace of mother Earth. I saw kaleidoscopic images, felt the presence of the Buddha. All was one and completely free and at ease.

After 2 or 3 hours elapsed we took a second cup of ayahuasca. This dose didn't agree with me. I could not maintain a seated position as my legs fell asleep and my back was tight, so after 20 minutes I lay down. My heart started palpitating and I began sweating. I became restless. I felt nauseous and in need of a toilet but luckily this wave passed and I didn't soil myself. It helped that I had nothing in my stomach. I opened my eyes to regain my bearings and the leaves of the tree overhead were melting. This didn't help. I felt helpless and alone and wanted to scream out, "Help me," but refrained. I closed my eyes again but kept seeing demonic faces. Ghouls and gargoyles. Like what is seen adorning old temples, the stuff of ancient carvings. I had tapped into man's primordial fears, or perhaps these images were merely the visual representation of the unpleasant physical sensation that was going through me. It was all rather unpleasant. Interdimensional ruffians were throwing down laser-like spears of venom as I lay on the ground gazing into the darkness of my psyche. I saw my DNA. The Universe is a vibratory field, a machine that hums and drones on eternally. Among the beings that accosted me, a recurrent visitor was the face of Freddy Kreuger, of the B horror movie franchise I first saw with my brothers at a sleepover as a boy of 13. This image, of him with his reptilian features, evil eyes, hooked nose and crooked pointy hat, as well as the one of Regan from The Exorcist, with her fangs and her sinister orbs and pig-like features and her gloating, lascivious stare, kept flashing before my mind's eye. I finally said inwardly, "You are an aspect of me, of the One, and I embrace you." And I inwardly did so. This dispelled the Halloween in my head, and the images didn't trouble me again. At that point I was able to lay back in relative peace and contemplate all I had seen. I remembered the passage from the Hindu text The Bhagavad Gita, in which Lord Krishna reveals himself to the warrior Arjuna. The latter is horrified by God's terrifying aspect. In truth God is everything, light and dark, good and bad, ridiculous and sublime, and also somewhat freaky at times. But when I inspected the fear I realized that there was no one to be afraid. Who was this "I" to be harmed? Just an illusion. How could I be hurt? I could not. The fear was imaginary, a representation of the nausea and other physical symptoms which had besieged by physicality, nothing more.

The third trip we took the following morning, while lying under the stars in the back yard of the house my brother had rented for us. This experience was subtle, almost like a light sleep. I didn't get sick, nor did I have a euphoric experience. I was just an appendage of the Earth, one with my surroundings. As I described it afterwards in our sharing session, each of my three trips was unique. There was heaven. There was hell. And there was the Earth, where heaven and hell exist. But only in the mind.

Interestingly, some of my experiences recalled episodes from the Tibetan Book of the Dead, which details the visions the recently deceased encounters upon death of the body. In my second trip I saw an image of a couple copulating. Just as the deceased is said to view the parents of a subsequent birth, and to be lured by physical attraction. Briefly my second chakra was awakened and I felt my loins stir. But if I had died I would not have been reborn, as the sexual images did not interest me for very long. This very well could have been a dress rehearsal for that time at some point in the future when my body shall die. It was a way of charting progress. If during the trip I had been prey to lustful thoughts, or could not get beyond the fear which had momentarily seized me, I'd know this was where my future work lay. As it was I just felt reborn. But maybe that had to do with our scenic surroundings. Kauai is such a beautiful place.

I proposed that my father, who at 78 is presumably closer to the end of his Earth trip than I, should take ayahuasca. But he has no interest. His guru, Sai Baba, was the biggest drug trip he will ever care to experience. But as someone who has done both Aya and Sai, I can say that they are unique, and as with most adventures, worth one's while. Would I seek out another such voyage into the inner realm? No, but I'd be open if one came my way. In any event it was quite nice to have this weekend with my brother. It brought us even closer than we already are, and I do love him so.

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