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Strange brew: Lying and sitting in quite space

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In a big room full of candle lights, deep in vegetation flavor, and having warm space with mats and cotton pillows, there were more than twenty people lying and sitting in quite space.

Ronin Niwe, a Canadian shaman, was sitting on the top of a semicircle, around him were tools including small glass and a plastic bottle with no mark that no-one dared to touch. He signaled to the left, immediately, everyone prostrated themselves in front of him and quickly drank all dose called ayahuasca. On my turn, I had been hesitating for a while before managing to swallow slimy and pungent solution into my throat. After the last person completed drinking, it was Niwe to pour himself a glass. The air was quite, went down heavily, and it seemed that everyone in the room was waiting for the medicine’s reaction. Two hours later, Niwe began singing a strange song (called icaro) with shrill sound, and the space seems to be brought back to some wild area at Ontario.


It was really a strange night on which profoundness and former mysteries were called back.

Had it been for the entreatment of my husband – a film maker executing a documentary film of three Canadians taking part in a mysterious ceremony of ayahuasca at Peruvian Amazon – I would have never entered that wooden house. In fact, without that occasion, perhaps I would never know the kind of medicine called ayahuasca – or also called ‘spirit’s vine’, which is supposed to manage to cure depression or opium addiction.

If these above ceremonies are considered as rather new rituals, local shamans (or also called powwows, or curanderos in Spanish) have made up ayahuasca for centuries. Along Amazon river, every child is provided a little amount of this medicine to cure petty diseases such as stomach disorder.

Shamans made up ayahuasca by two different kinds of Amazone’s vegetation, boiled them together in many hours until they stagnated into a tea dreg layer, gained decoction was a kind of pharmaceutical product with strong effect like a hallucinative stimulant that local citizens called ‘Saint’s medicine’.

After six ayahuasca ceremonies, I really believed in ayahuasca’s effectiveness and intended to do something in tonight’s ceremony. When it was my turn to receive the medicine, I told Niwe that I hoped to have more high-faluting and more creative imagination. After many months pursuing ideas for novel, I have always been nagged by two feeds of thought ‘can do’ and ‘cannot do’. I really want to break that negative thought, study my ego, and publish the most wonderful book.

I quickly drank my all medicine, and concentrated on listening to my breath. Suddenly, Niwe called me to step up again, I stepped through dark space and sat cross-legged in front of him, and waited for comprehending the icaro song he was about to sing. When he started to sing, I felt that ayahuasca was gradually proving its effect. At first, I felt that the song had happy melody and helped me smile, but then I recognized that my heart beat faster as if it had broken out of my rib-cage. I wondered whether he intentionally transferred quite strong energy so as to make me concentrate. Then, miraculously, at the song’s chorus, I began to hear the inner voice in my thought. I dubiously recognized that voice is a part of me, but not all, it was rumble. And when I screamed ‘stop’, what remained was an oddly quite space, and my soul was peaceful.

The song ended, Niwe gently blew smoke into the crown I was wearing, clasped my hands, and blew a bunch of feather into them. I returned my bed, felt more released, and recognized group exculpation ritual began when the shaman shifted the song full of energy into peace and quietness.

Not every ceremony always brings peaceful feelings for soul like that.

Many years ago, I used to imagine of monkeys that can fly in ‘The wizard of Oz’ movie bringing a ladder to boiling hot earth’s core, seeing reptiles of prehistoric age hunt bait, then all were eliminated like Linda Blair in ‘The exorcist’ movie. Niwe often says soul has more impact on us than imagination and vision. Though many people easily equate these two things as one, for me, after every time attending the ceremony, I feel more associated with the world around me. That is the reason why after more than five year, despite lay-off of handwriting or difficult start, I turn back to the job.

Ayahuasca is usually described in many different ways: an addictive drug, a medicine, or even a sacrament, depending on everyone’s definition and use’s circumstances. One of the main chemical compositions of the drug is Dimethyltryptamine – also called DMT – that is found in most animals and plants. Besides, this chemical is also produced in human’s body, secreted when people are born, die, and in sexual relations.

At Canada, DMT is managed strictly and banned to be produced in mass if it is not allowed by the Health Association. Canadian government even said to expand this ban for all kinds of ayahuasca. Meanwhile, at Peru, ayahuasca is considered as cultural heritage and made up in traditional way.

European biomedical science almost stands still when studying ayahuasca. However, there are some studies carried out satisfactorily. One of the authors having valuable research results is Dr. Dennis McKenna, the one describes ayahuasca as ‘dreaming when being awake’ syndrome. Being a pharmaceutist coming from Minneapolis, also an author with more than thirty years studying plants, McKenna is a member of research group founded in 1990 with purpose to study a group of people taking ayahuasca frequently in a long time and a group of Brazilian priests using ayahuasca as a sacrament. When the study ended, they drew some conclusions among which is the fact that ayahuasca increases a large amount of serotonin metabolic composition in brain. This is related to reducing drug addiction and negative behaviors. In short, scientists acknowledge that ayahuasca has therapeutic effect and effective anti-asthenia ability.

After a sound short sleep, all group members sat together. They shared feelings, recalled of ‘imagination and vision’, listened to the shaman’s instruction and passed the huge pipe full of tobacco leaves.

When dawn sunlight went into the room, I could observe more clearly those who spent the ceremony with me last night. Most of them were in the age of twenty to middle-sixty with more women than men, and in diversified backgrounds such as merchant, therapist, yoga teacher, artist, writer, and even employee. Among them was a famous former athlete. She shared that ayahuasca was a kind of mysterious panacea helping her cure pains she had suffered for many years while her own doctor was unable to cure.

After chairing hundreds of ayahuasca ceremonies, Niwe shared that he believed ayahuasca ritual was a process of discovering soul, not only is it a connection among brain, body, and soul, but it is also a thread connecting everyone with the outside world.

That is the most outstanding idea. However, the shaman also reminded me that ayahuasca gave you what you needed, not what you wanted, and you needed time to understand your soul’s voice. For me, I have been connecting my brain’s quietness, learning to recognize my ego, and completing my own creative work. Step by step, I will success.

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