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Drinking Ayahuasca in the countryside at the height of an English Summer.
#1
I went off, walking staff in hand, with everything I needed in the rucksack on my back and found a lonely place beneath a gnarled silver birch overlooking a stream far below, about a half mile from the path and a good two miles from the tarmac road.

The small green leaves above and around me were twitching and turning in the breeze, dappling and changing colour in the sunlight. Birds sang everywhere. The heather was covered in lilac-coloured blossom and smelled like honey. In the blue sky between the trees overhead there were only a few isolated clouds, wind-sheared into ribbons that grew more angular as I watched them, like Nike logos made from vapour.

I sat cross-legged in the bole of the tree, set up my meths stove on a rock in front of me, lit it with a flint rod and penknife and reached for the water bottle. The first sealer bag I’d brought contained 50g of caapi vine. It was already shredded finely, though not powdered. In this form, I’d been assured around an hour of boiling would be sufficient to get plenty of MAOI activity from it. I filled the cooking pot with water and dropped the vine in, stirring it with a twig from the tree.

I knew I’d need more water so went down to the stream. Its bed was bright orange. This is caused by a phytobacterium related to stromatelites, which absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen as they photosynthesise. For many millions of years, they were the only living things on this planet. They are responsible for virtually all of the oxygen in the atmosphere and effectively every living organism owes them their lives. As they release oxygen in iron-rich water, the orange iron precipitates out of solution and this is the source of ore deposits across the world. So, we have this bacterium to thank for both the oxygen we breathe and the steel we build with. It made me happy to see something so primordially influential and such ancient connectedness seemed to bode well for my trip.

When I got back to the cooking pot it was bubbling merrily and the odour it was giving off was something only a scarified shaman who enjoyed pushing bones through his body parts could have deemed pleasant. It certainly smelled active and also strangely familiar, though that may have been an echo of kava or ginseng. The water had become an alkaloid brown.

It took three refills of meths and one of water to boil this part of the brew for the full hour. I fetched more water from the stream and immediately put the chaliponga on to boil. I needed to leave a 45-minute gap for the MAO inhibition to take effect. The caapi vine sank to the bottom of the pot and the liquid had reduced to maybe a mug full. It was easy to pour it off. I was glad there wouldn’t be too much to drink, as it looked and smelled like something you could tan a cowhide in. Or perhaps already had. When it had cooled a bit, I tried a slurp and found my expectations entirely accurate. Sharp, bitter, deeply alkaloid, with a sinister woodiness and an authority that spoke of extensive and perverse rainforest knowledge, born of many thousands of dangerous trial and error experiments.

The only way I could get it down was to let it cool and gulp it fast and aggressively, with plenty of reckless determination. As I finished it and took a breath, the full flavour hit me and I nearly gipped. But at no point did it cause the nausea I’d been told to expect.

The 100g of chaliponga leaves kept floating in the next part of the brew and needed to be poked under the water until they became saturated. Eventually the pot came to a good rolling boil with the leaves circulating and I could take a break with my stirring stick. An hour later, the liquid was greener than the first brew and had a woodier odour. I let it cool as before, fully expecting to have to choke it down. But, to my surprise, it wasn’t too nasty. It certainly tasted of the jungle, with something powerful hiding inside it like a mastiff in a wheat field, but it wasn’t horrendous and I was able to consume it without difficulty.

Then I sat back and waited for the coming of what may. My position in the landscape slowly became clear to me. I was reclined on a platform formed from debris which had over decades created a flat surface next to the tree. Whilst this was stable, the ground either side of me dropped away steeply for maybe a hundred feet with nothing to prevent me tumbling to the bottom apart from an impact with the trunks of the many trees. I was about to trip my tits off on the edge of a cliff. I emptied my bivvi bag, sleeping bag and other equipment from my rucksack, placing the sleeping bag under me for comfort. Then I attached the top of the rucksack to a firm root behind me with a carabiner and six feet of rope, put my arms through the rucksack straps and tied them together across my chest with a knot that I wouldn’t be able to untie whilst intoxicated.

Secured in my makeshift tripping harness, I awaited my fate.

There was a rumbling and churning in my guts, but happily no nausea. Being at the top of a steep slope, there were platforms of bright green leaves extending horizontally at all levels around me. The shimmers in these leaves began to resemble shoals of fish suddenly avoiding a predator en masse, or altering direction simply for the fun of it. On the trunk of the silver birch in front of me, crisp leaf-shadows were moving in the breeze. I watched as two of the shadows joined to form the silhouette of a man repeatedly removing his top hat, apparently greeting some kind of animal that resembled a bowing donkey or wombat. I looked around and saw that the trunks of every tree were covered in shadow-puppet shows involving strange but friendly animalistic outlines and silent movie characters carrying canes and wearing extravagant headwear.

The birdsong was becoming extremely intense and seemed to be actually echoing inside me, leaving behind an educational residue of sound, which transposed itself into memories as it faded into silence. It became clear that these weren’t simply noises, but rather a fully-formed language. New songs would begin and the singer would wait for a response. If one was received, the bird would make its song more complex, adding additional trills and well-timed spaces. If the responding bird could copy the new song, the complexity would increase again and this continued until one or both reached their limit, at which point their singing would stop. Sometimes, the responding bird would continue to sing for more from the initiator, plaintively, as though making it clear that it wanted to learn. But nothing ever came back, its chance was gone. But other times, the call and response would become closer together as the birds moved through the trees toward one another. I watched a few of them pair up and go off swooping together through the canopy, testing one another’s flying abilities to the limit. What were they saying? Were they asking “Are you like me?”, were they telling each other of all the places they’d been and the things they’d done there? And they were dinosaurs, who’d survived the comet’s impact and adapted by developing flight and making their bodies much smaller and lighter. So that they could live on less food and move great distances when it ran out.

My understanding changed from waiting for the trip to start to realising it was well and truly underway. I turned my attention to the vegetation. There wasn’t a single plant anywhere that wasn’t necessary for the landscape to have formed. Everything was connected to every other thing. Sphagnum moss covered the earth between the bracken, producing iodine that prevented infection and fungal attack of the stems of the plants that sheltered it and stopped it drying out. The undergrowth provided concealment and berries for small animals, which spread their seeds. All around me, there were small holes dug into the banks containing the lives of who knows what? Snakes, mice, water voles, rabbits, spiders, all with their own niche and set of concerns and abilities, their own lifecycles perfectly in tune with everything around them. The trees, towering above it all, their roots reinforcing the steep banks they grew on, preventing landslide. All of their roots intermingled in a symbiosis with a fungus, which provided a signalling mechanism between the trees that allowed them to tell one another when they were being attacked by insects, allowing them to increase their tannins or other repellents. A female mountain ash grew with a smaller male tree in its shade. What process had brought them together across so many miles of desolate moorland? Had a bird perched in the female tree and dropped the seed of the male below? How could it know that this was the right thing to do? Yet there seemed to be no other explanation.

I closed my eyes and saw the birdsong inside me. Each sound made a shape, which was modified as the song progressed. Tesseracts span, bulging at their corners and cycling with colours, some of which I wasn’t sure I could name. They turned inside out, collapsing in order to spawn copies of themselves, which hatched their own offspring who were already pregnant or giving birth even as they were born. The longer notes of the songs formed expanding spheres that burst into reflective diamonds as the notes changed and these began turning into triquetras which seemed to be flowing through themselves and combining into a grid.

The birdsong seemed to be dying down and I opened by eyes to find that it was dusk and all the leaves were now a deeper green. Wherever I looked, no matter what caught my attention, I saw smiling faces, sometimes of pretty girls and women, often of oriental males, all with kindly well-experienced eyes brimming with an eagerness to interact. They seemed to be constantly in flux, changing sex and shape, drifting into the distance even as others emerged. A sound seemed to come from everywhere and pass into me, where it created some kind of resonance which gave rise to the development of timeless thoughts: thoughts which were of universal application; rules and principals which might be applied to existence for its continual approval.

When I closed my eyes again the triquetras were still there, but were flowing into themselves more rapidly, combining into wider moving surfaces that were covered in diamond shapes. I saw that they were the scales of a snake, or perhaps a Chinese dragon covered in angular gemstones. The sinuous writhing of its body was making the background sound that I could hear and I understood that it was responsible for all of this. Its muscles rippled and changed, the folds of its body flowed more quickly over one another, its gyrations increased and it suddenly raised its head and looked at me.

It was looking deeper inside me than I can myself. It had the eyes of a Nepalese Buddhist demon, harsh and terrifying, but only because of its total insistence and endless drive to ensure that I absolutely must justify gazing upon it. Around its face were frills and small horns decorated in the same way as its skin. They were mobile, waving in the air like tentacles towards me, coming out from the screen as it were, like ribbons from a fan blade, or the feet of slender leeches seeking a warm body. It had tall, flaring nostrils in an upturned, pug-like nose and teeth extending in all directions, with two sets of elongated canines extending up and down. A long, blue, bifurcated tongue came slowly and languorously out from between its lips and its nostrils flared as it sucked everything about me inside itself. Its eyes glared and opened menacingly, challengingly, in a clear attempt at intimidation. It was daring me to be scared and the only reason I wasn’t, was that there was no “me”. Whatever it and I were, we were alone in the universe. There was nothing to compare what was currently happening with.

It continued to stare inside me for what seemed like aeons, but finally, with what resembled a look of surprise, it was satisfied and turned its back, then looked over its shoulder for me to follow it. For all its glory and beauty, it moved in a strangely worm-like fashion, extending parts of its body and then catching up with the rest. Sometimes I was directly behind it, sometimes it drew alongside and I was able to watch its strange, inch-worm locomotion, which was oddly cartoon-like and endearing. It was giving off waves of encouragement and mentorship. It was massively communicative without any words coming from it. It was taking me somewhere.

We finally approached our destination and the dragon started to hang back. I looked at it. Its eyes were unbearably harsh but held not even a germ of malice or slyness. It seemed to be smiling, but not like a crocodile. More like a Buddha or the Mona Lisa. It wanted me to go on by myself, it couldn’t go with me.

It was just a door, or so it appeared. So, I went through it. It looked like a library, or some other kind of document storage building. There were filing cabinets and shelves everywhere, some covered in dust. It was clear that I was alone.

I thought I recognised one or two of the cardboard boxes on a nearby shelf and lifted the lid to look inside, finding an old diary from when I was young, which I’d lost many years before. I began reading an account of something that had happened at a party one time, something I was ashamed of and wanted to forget. Flushed with embarrassment, I grasped the page and tore it from the notebook. But as I watched, the paper I held faded and vanished, reappearing back in the book, which I snapped shut and replaced in the box. There were other diaries there, journals and drawings, typewritten manuscripts of real events. I tried again to destroy any records of the things I shouldn’t have done, situations where I ought to have behaved differently. But every time I tried, the pages quickly repaired any damage I caused and I was left to consider this colossal archive of unalterable books, wandering for what seemed like endless aeons through the lines of increasingly less dusty shelves, wondering when and if I would reach any blank pages.

Soon, I became surrounded by documents free from any dust and took down a book at random. The text I was reading described a situation which was very recent, something which had yet to resolve itself, the outcomes to which were still filled with multiple possibilities. As I considered the events described, the text altered, growing more or less extensive according to the choices I appeared to be considering earlier in the narrative. Many of the conclusions were disastrous, but the majority filled me with pleasure and pride and were highly desirable. I knew I wouldn’t be able to recall in detail the individual steps I’d taken in order to reach the best outcomes. So, I began to search for what such actions all had in common, thinking that I might be able to divine some ruleset, some underlying principle, which would guide me according to fundamentals.

And this is how it appeared to be. Whenever I made choices based on fear, or avoidance, or whenever I acted out of selfish or ignoble reasons, the stories ended abruptly, the results became clipped and lacked further opportunity. By contrast, whenever my choices were those of engagement and generous spirit, rather than short-term personal gain or advantage, the end results bifurcated into forests of increasing rewarding possibilities.

I looked back at the banks of shelves and storage boxes and considered what I had discovered, or rather re-learned: that whilst there was no way for me to undo the results and records of all the things I’d done wrong in the past, there was equally no point in regretting any of those things or in trying to destroy those memories. There was no final truth, no ultimate revelation which could end the need for further development and grant me ultimate wisdom, as I knew I had partially and foolishly hoped prior to embarking on my trip. There was only an endless now populated by a web of consciousnesses, all of whom were making choices and reaching outcomes as a result of those choices, which were guided by experiences, as were my own. Experience formed the means whereby I had built the fundamental principles by which I would be able to deal correctly with any situation whatsoever in both the present and the future. I knew intuitively how to respond in any future situation according to what I had learned and what made me feel proud of my actions. And as had been shown by the fact that the Dragon/Snake hadn’t been able to accompany me during this revelation, the only person who could do this for me was myself. I was elated. I simply had to do the right thing, and by being honest with myself and free from self-delusion, I would always know what that was. It was all about the right choices. It was perfectly simple.

One of my recent choices had been to brew and consume a famous revelatory drink, alone in a beautiful place, where I now found myself tied into a rucksack on a hillside as the first hint of a dawn introduced a semi-circular glow with undefined edges into a sky where distant stars began to lose contrast and vanish as our own star arose under the lip of the planet on the surface on which we’re all spinning through space. I untied myself, with mild OEVs still imposing themselves on the knots of the rope, emptied the leaves from my cooking pot and refilled it with fresh water and ground coffee.

I couldn’t stop smiling. The trip hadn’t been a sudden flash of Satori, as might be expected from much of the associated literature. Nor had it led to me seeking a removal from the modern world, a desire for a hermit-like existence, protected from the barbs of consensus reality by an existential cowardice bordering on hypocrisy. To the extent that such an experience is in any way communicable, I felt that I’d always be able to recall what had happened well enough to describe it to others, should I feel they’d be interested.

I drank my morning coffee as the daylight proper began to reintroduce shadows and birdsong and I felt the entire cyclic wave, upon which I’d just surfed so rewardingly, begin again all around me. Then I packed my rucksack and began my walk along a series of peat-bedded sheep tracks into a village, planning to arrive an hour and a half later, at 10:30am, when I knew the local pub opened and served bacon and sausage sandwiches to people fortunate enough to be in a position to enjoy them.
'The trouble is, we think we have time."
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